Biographical Non-Fiction posted August 20, 2022


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A Random Act of Kindness

A Three Hour Party

by Annmuma

My Best High School Memory Contest Winner 

Tioga, Louisiana. 1961.  That's my childhood home in the picture.
 
One cannot get much more rural than that, but we had a well-rated high school, filled with teachers who cared as much about their students personally as academically. I discovered that in May, 1961 and again in 2011.

Graduation day was coming up quickly and I was excited about that, and a little apprehensive. I was a good student, always near the top of my class academically and near the bottom socially.  Other than two especially close friends, I was part of a much larger girlfriend group, but with the exception of one or two slumber parties, my interaction with them was within the bounds of school. Boyfriends were mostly limited to someone who needed help with their homework and we sat on the school steps or in the library.
 
I dressed okay, my dad supported us adequately on his Missouri Pacific Railroad engineer's salary and I had a driver's license - no car, just a license. I had a job on the weekends at Grants Five and Dime in Alexandria, just seven miles away with only a one mile walk to the bus. We lived in a house with unfinished wood floors, no curtains or blinds on the windows and sparsely filled with furniture. I was happy with my life and looked forward to attending the newly established Louisiana State University at Alexandria Junior College.

To say I was surprised when one of my teachers, Mrs. Higdon, stopped me in the hallway on a Monday morning, to say, "Olevia, your cousin would like to host an afternoon Coke Party for you at her home."

"What cousin? Aunt Grace?" The only cousins I knew generated from my mom's family. I had met many of Daddy's siblings and their children, but they didn't live anywhere close and certainly were not likely to be planning parties for me.

"No, Olevia. Your dad's cousin. I ran into Scott Yeager's wife, Winona. Your name came up and she asked about having a little graduation party for you."

"Are you sure she was talking about me? I don't remember ever having met her."

The 'Scott Yeagers' were the 'rich' Yeagers - at least, as seen by me. Daddy would visit with them occasionally about some family tree thing and, when he did so, he went to their house. None of them, to my knowledge, had ever visited in our house. They lived in Ball, Louisiana, just a few miles up the Monroe Highway, but a million miles from our lifestyle. I had seen their homes, huge estate-like homes - think Tara, two story white frame with large pillars in the front, situated under magnolia trees and surrounded by camellias and, what we called 'cashmere bouquet' bushes, aka Gardenias. The street on which they lived was named "Yeager Drive" and is still so named today.

The elder, C Scott Sr. was an attorney and 'land investor' - whatever that means. I heard the term when my dad described him to someone, but I was not curious enough to inquire as to its meaning. C. Scott Jr. was an architect and John was a doctor. All wives were devoted to making their communities better and, since I didn't live in their community or move in their social circles, I had no idea what they did to accomplish that goal. The kids went to private schools in Alexandria; I had never met them.

"Yes, Olevia, we were talking about you. If you are agreeable, we could plan a small coke party for the Saturday before Baccalaureate Service on Sunday."

"That's not going to be a very good day. Lots of people are having graduation parties that Saturday. Who's going to come anyway?"

"We plan to invite every senior girl and your stepmother. The party will be at Winona's house, around two in the afternoon. Snacks and cokes will be served, and you girls can just have fun. It will be over before five, so no Saturday parties will be affected. By the way, are you going to a Saturday night party?"

"No. On graduation night, I plan to go bowling at the new bowling alley on McArthur Drive. Just four or five of us girls are going."

"So, what do you think about a small celebration for you?"

"I guess it's okay. I can come and I'll ask Thelma."

"Don't worry about Thelma. I'll talk to your stepmother."

The appointed Saturday came. Daddy drove Thelma and me to C Scott's house. I was dressed in my best gathered skirt, blouse and saddle oxfords. Driving up what seemed at the time to be a long driveway, but really isn't, I wondered if anyone would come. Well, I knew my best friends would be there, but there were girls in my class that I had rarely, if ever, spoken to, beyond 'hello'. I was academically blessed, a member of the BETA Club, attended Tioga Baptist Church with the girls that lived on the right side of the tracks and, though seriously socially challenged, I had a way into the popular girls' clique.
 
I knew they would be there. But I had classmates who were very poor, not in my group or any group of which I was aware, and lived lives of which I had no knowledge. I could not imagine why they would come to my party.

Having never been in this mansion, I approached the front porch with some trepidation. Before I could reach for the doorbell, the door opened, and a lovely lady welcomed me in as if I were a regular visitor to her gorgeous home.

"Look here, girls. Olevia is here."

The house, at least the part I could see, was filled with girls. Some even had their moms with them. They stood and clapped as if I were some sort of celebrity. I was taken aback. It felt like a dream. Winona stepped over to a nearby table to pick up a scrapbook.

"Here, Olevia. You have so many friends! I want you to have each of them write a note about today in this scrapbook. We are all so proud of you and your accomplishments."

I seriously wondered what accomplishments? I graduated from high school, not Harvard. Still, it was nice to bask in that moment and I thought briefly about my mom. She had died some five years ago, but I knew she would be proud, maybe even a little relieved, as she was concerned that I was too much of a loner and could fall into a 'sad place' in my mind.

Mrs. Higdon stepped in. "Olevia, we have the snacks set out and the coke bar is ready. Why don't you choose some music? Put some records on the Victrola." She took Thelma's arm and they went to some other room.

I had a memorable afternoon, got some presents, we all laughed, danced to the records, wrote in my new scrapbook, planned the rest of our lives - all the things high school girls did in the late '50's and early '60's.

For many years, I often thought of that party and the kindness of Mrs. Higdon and Mrs. Yeager. I never saw Mrs. Yeager again. That party was probably part of her 'improve the community' projects by throwing a party for the less fortunate, but her motives were unimportant to me then and still are.  The memory lives on.

In 2011, I was attending my 50th high school reunion in Alexandria. Not everyone came, but most of my friends did and a few of those almost 'outsiders' who had graduated with me, but whom I never knew. One of those people, Joann Belgard - now Joann Barnes - was there. I heard her talking politics with one of the guys and it turned out that she and I shared a lot of political views. As the conversation broke up, I walked over to her.

"Hey, Joann, I wish I could think on my feet as fast as you! Congrats on winning that one!"

We both laughed as she said, "Olevia?" with a question in her voice.

"Yeah. Though now I go by 'Ann'"

Without hesitation, she hugged me and when she stepped away, her eyes were glossy. I was startled. I was glad to see her, but it certainly did not bring tears to my eyes. She was one of those girls to whom I could never remember having spoken in high school. She was one of seven children, living with her parents in a two-bedroom house on Pardue Road. It was close to my house, but eons away from how I lived in terms of freedom, space, thinking, lifestyle.

"Olevia, I apologize for tearing up. Do you remember your graduation party?"

"The Coke Party? Yeah. Why?"

"Your party was the only party I was ever invited to in high school. I remember everything, from getting the invitation, to getting dressed, to walking into your cousin's mansion. It made such an impression on me. I guess, in some ways, it actually changed how I saw my future. I can't explain it, but I can say 'thank you' now."

We smiled as we both took a short trip down memory lane.  For the next hour or so, we shared information about our lives, our families, our careers. Turned out, she just lives up the road in McKinney now and we have become close friends.
 
A random act of kindness counts double when no one asks for credit but allows their deed to speak for itself in terms of results in making the world a better place where they live.
 

 



My Best High School Memory
Contest Winner

Recognized

#34
August
2022


I never told Joann the backstory to 'My Party'. I am certain it would make no difference now to know I had no part in planning the party from guests to activities. Certainly, I never prepared any invitations. I do consider how God can work in mysterious ways (as did Ms. Scott Yeager and Mrs. Higdon) to influence young girls lives for many years. These two kind souls live on through the many good deeds they did and asked for nothing in return.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.


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