By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
All right, I admit it — no one has greater or finer friends than I. As I look at my MerlinStar t-shirt and think back years ago when I had Melett Smith’s room 206 down on the corner I remember another birthday party orchestrated here by Gail “Merlin” Webb. To be honest, there were times I wondered if I would make it this far but what a joyous place to spend No. 60 — with my buddies at Tazewell High School.
Over in the corner of the library, near my massive green and white birthday cake, was my (not so) old buddy, Vera Lee Austin, a great tennis star first at Graham High School and a classmate at Bluefield College in 1972, when I was 20. She had a super nice gift all packaged when I arrived.
I didn’t make it into my room this morning until I saw a bevy of balloons around the entrance. There was a huge banner proclaiming good wishes for six decades of living. That was orchestrated by my daughter, Lori Anne, now a terrific teacher at that same wonderful Graham High. She came along in 1982, when I turned 30.
Gail (another Graham girl!) has been one of my buddies since my student teaching days. Now the English Department chair, she still takes great care of me and that other party she put together was in 1992, the year I made 40.
Barbara Gillespie — our librarian — gave me a color-coded sheet with an assortment of 60 quotes to use on birthdays and Barb and I made a great trip to Richmond with a group of students in 2002. That was the big 50th anniversary of yours truly.
Today on number 60 Spencer Gee and Darrah Young, students in my junior English class, presented me with a 2,781-page Encyclopedia of Baseball. Every class sang Happy Birthday and nearly all of the 600 students came by with greetings. The other teachers visited during the day. Amazing.
Gathered together this morning were several members of the THS English Department, including Melett Smith, Bob McGraw, and Sue Ellen Presley. An ex-officio English staffer, Leesa Peery, was also on hand with her good wishes. Counselors Maria White and Linda Moore helped with the festivities. So did Mary Beth Greer and Randy Cordle.
Brad and Melissa (our incredible bookkeeper) Coleman, along with their children Destinee, Tori, and Rascal not only made a card but gave me some RC Cola and Moon Pies, as well as junior mints. I was so afraid it would be “senior” mints but since I have the great good fortune of teaching English 11, that made perfect sense. As always, leave it to Melissa to do the right thing. Secretary Lauren (Bennett) Jones said to have a great day and so did our custodial and cafeteria staff members.
Another all-star duo, Lori and Bob Moss, made certain to extend their heart-felt thoughts with a great card and gift. Naturally, our assistant librarian, Regina (Turley) Coleman, not only had one of finest cards but also one of my favorite things in the world — buttered popcorn — ready for me.
Libby Metcalfe included an art-deco card along with coins for each year of my existence. Over in the corner, my long-time broadcasting buddy, fellow teacher, Bluefield State classmate, and daily confidante, Sam Angles, sent a card relating my age to the ground. You can guess the rest. His lovely wife, Melinda, signed it with her best wishes but I am sure that Sam made several comments not included on the card. Jerry Smith, now the area’s finest radio football analyst and my sidekick on Eagle 100.1 Radio, was right there as well to say happy birthday. Jerry has become my right hand man in the broadcasting business, or maybe it’s the other way around.
That banner on the door was concocted by Karen Harvey, who is the GHS art teacher and another wonderful friend of many years. Believe me, that makes it even more special because she did it. Here in the library, our own art teacher who has done so much to help me, Carol Patteson, came by and wished me the very best as did Mark Maxfield. My “next door neighbor” Katrina Campbell-Harris, helped me carry my loot upstairs after the 7:30 a.m. party. She is a ray of sunshine on every day but especially this day. So, too, were the good wishes from King Boyce and William Lester, two more super friends. Heather (Whitman) Larimer, a colleague and last year’s team teacher certainly brightened my day. Sharon Rhudy was on hand to make the day better, as well, and so was “the genius” math teacher, Rose (Brewster) Poskas, my other next door neighbor. She, Gail, Leesa, and I are among those veteran teachers who really appreciate having birthdays after what we have been through in recent years.
I can’t believe it’s been half a century since my principal, Rodney Reid, and I, were among the Abb’s Valley Cub Scout Den 3 Pack 218 group led by Flora Lee Asbury. Now one of the great THS alumi, Mrs. Cynthia (Brown) Beavers, is our assistant principal. She brought a wonderful card, and she and Mr. Reid tricked me into going to the office and then back to the library before school so the party could be organized. No wonder those two are my supervisors!
But it will be all right. I will try to continue as Albert Einstein, who said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Thanks for the memories.
Larry Hypes is a teacher at Tazewell High School and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.