East Rome High School teachers are growing old gracefully and are still sharing love and laughter. We were at it again as the unofficial summer eased in on June 1, 2019.

We did it again as we had done it so many times since the school closed in 1992, and I am not sure if it was the water we drank years ago or the air we breathed or the God we served or all of the above, but we did it again. I guess we just truly love each other now even though at the time we had a hard time liking each other. I guess now each other is all that we have, so we are clinging to each other for the wonderful life that we had with each other. When one has spent 30-40 years with a group of people and still wants to be around them on a hot Saturday evening, we have to disagree with Tina Turner when she asked question, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” We all will answer and say that love has everything to do with it. June 1, with all of the glorious aspects of summer, came in blazing, but gave us a reprieve. The weather was kind enough for us to gather on the lawn of our former principal, David Holland. That wonderful group of ERHS teachers got together again. We sat in comfortable lawn chairs and reminisced about times past. Some of us had a hard time sitting and some had an even harder time getting up. Some of us had a hard time doing both, me included.

Many shared some of the good and the bad experiences had on the ERHS campus. You know most of the evil, low down, dirty deeds were carried out by only a few of our gangster coaches. At another time I will tell you the ones who were angels in the group. Some of them, like Tim, Danny, Andy and a few more just ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Some untruths that had been told years ago got straightened out. Rumors were started in school by that motley crew that Mary Holcomb had been a belly dancer in her earlier life and all of these years I believed it. Not that it made a difference in my thoughts about Mary, but I just wonder what would have happened if we had not come together for the fellowship. Many went to heaven and others would have gone to heaven thinking that Mary was going to be on the goat side of heaven. I was told that Mrs. Carolyn Jackson taught with a voodoo doll on her desk. The Word says stay away from the seat of the scornful. Coach Walker just mentioned one day that Carolyn believed in voodoo because of her connection with the New Orleans culture, and I believed him. He told me that if I did not believe him to just ask her students. At the gathering on Saturday I found out that that, too, was not true.

The joyous group is living proof that East Rome lives on forever as long as we have the spirits of Mary, Julie, Claire, Andy, Tim, Dwight, Lingerfelt, Jacobs, Mike and Cheryl Jenkins, Wallace, Arrington, Kinnebrew, Walker, Jackson, Kaylor, Curruth, Marable, Palmer, Harp, Akin, Batchelor, Carolyn and John Jackson, Sandra, Keasler, Annie Miller, Randy Robinson, Reggie Scott, Vivian Wells, Jerry and Nancy Sharp and Danny Wiseman.

Our next gathering will be called “Truth and Consequences.” Someone has to pay for the lies that were told about each other at the Home of the Gladiators.

David and Winnie Holland even realize that they do like us after all, and to show their undying love for us they opened up their home. Winnie cooked two of the best pots of Brunswick stew on this side of the Mason-Dixon. Mr. Holland pulled pork after Winnie cooked it. They gave a shout, “Come whosoever and feast with us!” And we did, like children coming home to visit Mom and Dad. We piled in there, to Holland’s surprise. Winnie treated us as a mother hen treats her chicks.

Thirty-plus teachers, not counting the spouses, were there to laugh and joke one more time in the effort to keep the ERHS spirit alive and to check up on each other to see if indeed we were still alive. My husband is always amazed about the gathering. He likens it to a pep-rally when we all get together. He says that after 35-50 years if we all still feel that much camaraderie then “ERH NEVER SAY DIE” spirit will live forever. He says it seems to still be genuine, and at 77 he has never witnessed such togetherness. He mumbled that it must have been tough for David Holland. I acted like I did not hear him say that. I started to respond by saying, “Don’t be fooled by that humble pie look on his face. David could rear up like an unleashed bulldog.” I remembered that one should not say everything that comes to mind. Hardy went on. “The ‘Never Say Die’ spirit will live on because the children who remember you all will remember how you all treated each other and how you treated them, and they will keep it alive by sharing with their children what it was like to attend ERHS. It appears that you all just wanted every child to be loved by someone who made a concerted effort to show the students what love looks like.”

We spent a little time talking about the ERHS spirit and realized that each teacher who connected to the school made a concerted effort to care for our students first. Even as time passed and paperwork became seemingly insurmountable, we still put our children first in our teaching assignments. Our main goal was to make every effort to see our children as human beings with needs, and if they were hurting we were not so stiff in our academics that we were not able to say, “Can we talk about it?” or “Remember, I am here before and after school if you need to talk.” Not only did we show that concern for the students, we wrapped our arms around our coworkers. We knew what hurt looked like on the faces of other human beings. I could tell you the many stories of how that looks, but it would fill up several books. One day it will be shared.

Addie Jim Rollins, now deceased, left a mark on all of us without realizing it. She referred to her students as humans. She would say, “All right, humans, let us have a seat, and I never asked her why.” With Addie Jim doing that it reminded us on a daily basis that all were human and should be treated as such in the streets, in the hallways, in the classroom and especially in the faculty meetings.

That “Never Say Die” spirit lives on in each of us and we are beginning to see evidence in our children. We still rise.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome.

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