By Robert St. John
For the 22-plus years I have written this weekly column I have focused mainly on food and travel. Occasionally I have ventured into family stories, especially when my kids were young and there was a lot of material to mine.
I have written often about something I call the Five Fs. The Five Fs are nothing more than a prioritization of the things that matter to me the most. It took me 40 years to learn how to rank life’s most important aspects, but I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to do my best to live out that concept.
The Five Fs are — in order — faith, family, friends, food and fun. My problem for a good portion of my life is that I was looking for fun in most of the wrong places. Fun was at the top of my priority list. Once I started ranking things differently, I learned that fun doesn’t have to be sought out or manufactured, it just happens. If my spiritual self is covered and my family is prioritized, I enjoy my friendships even more. And friendships are what have me vibrating on a higher frequency today.
Yesterday I attended a class reunion for all grades at my junior high/high school. It was a perfect day. It’s an event that has been in the works for several years. We originally scheduled it for May 2020, but that obviously didn’t stand. I believe it was rescheduled again, and then yesterday was the third rescheduling, and the day we finally pulled it off.
For grades 6-12, I attended a small, private school that was probably formed for all the wrong reasons, but that’s a different column for a different day. My grandmother and uncle helped pay the tuition and my mom worked there. Today, I want to celebrate friendships more than politics.
If a glass-half-empty person took a broad, bird’s-eye view of my childhood, he or she could probably make a negative and melodramatic case of a childhood filled with challenges and hardships. My father died when I was very young. I was raised by a single mom who brought my brother and me up on an art teacher’s salary. I started working to earn money at 12 years old. I did yard work, I worked for a short time as a janitor at my school, and I worked full time all through high school as a radio station disc jockey. I was the poster child for attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity and had the concentration of a gnat. We didn’t have a lot of money to do extra things and take vacations. But I feel blessed with the childhood I had. Truly blessed. My glass is more than half full, it’s brimming over. When I dig deep into why I feel so fortunate, it’s due to the depth and breadth of the friends I have known.
I wouldn’t trade my childhood with anyone.
Yesterday, that rang true. We met in the old gymnasium, which has been used as a storage facility for the past several decades. It was the first time I had spent any meaningful time on that campus since my graduation ceremony in May of 1979. Actually, it’s not even a campus any longer. There are businesses built where the football and baseball fields used to be and both classroom buildings are some type of housing these days. But the gym is still mostly intact and that is where the reunion was held.
I grew up in a unique place and at a perfect time. The late 1960s and the entire decade of the 1970s still held a little innocence left over from the post-WWII years, but there was also another war raging which gave the times and the music that came from those times a seriousness and urgency that was woven throughout the decade. It was still a time when doors were left unlocked and there were only three channels on the television (four if you had a good antennae).
I spent every day with my friends in the neighborhood and at school. There is a particular bond that is formed in childhood friendships that one rarely experiences when meeting people later in life. It’s something that works so magically that I might not see someone for 20 years, and within minutes we pick up exactly where we left off.
Some of the people at the reunion I hadn’t seen in more than 40 years. But I still felt an immediate connection. School is a hard thing for a kid. I think we develop a childhood version of a bunker mentality that forms a bond that lasts for decades.
There has always been something deep inside me that wants to stay connected with my childhood friends. This reunion was good medicine as we’re nearing the end of a challenging time in world history.
Someone put together a memorial display of all the classmates who had passed away. Some were very young and left us years ago. One died a few weeks ago. I spent a good bit of time looking at the photographs of classmates that had passed. It made me appreciate, even more, those of us who are still here, and made me recommit to stay in touch with them in the coming years.
Switching gears to the concept of fun. As I stated earlier, I used to look for fun in a lot of the wrong places. What I eventually learned is that if a few of the Five Fs are in place the fun automatically happens. It doesn’t have to be manufactured. As I have grown older, I have tried to prioritize my life in a healthier manner. For decades the most important things in my life were material and monetary things. It took me a long time to learn that the things that truly matter in life — the things that bring true happiness and joy — are the spiritual and relational things.
Yesterday was fun. And it was the best kind of fun. It was the fun that comes from relationships that were forged decades earlier over football games and pep rallies and lunchroom discussions and shared experiences as everyone tried to navigate the road that was taking us from total dependence on our family to independence and whatever the future held.
1 46-oz can pineapple juice
1 small can frozen orange juice
1 small can frozen lemonade
1 quart ginger ale
Add enough water to make 1 gallon
(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author. He lives in Hattiesburg, Miss.)
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