Revved up Like a What?: Thank You to the STJ Class of 1992

by Vallie Lynn Watson

My favorite music was produced between the years 1968 and 1986, the latter year mostly due to the usual early-teen nostalgia about pop radio. I was born in 1973 to parents in their late thirties; my brother and sister were born in the 1950s. We lived all over the US and the world, until my parents retired and moved to their very Deep Southern hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, a place I’d only known by our yearly visits. I had spent an exciting sixth grade year in a public junior high in Houston, where my class numbered in the hundreds and exhibited some racial diversity. Upon beginning seventh grade, I found myself among thirty-nine white and one black native Montgomerians who had known each other since kindergarten, and who knew to stand when a teacher walked into the room. Any confidence I’d gained in my twelve short years was shot. I was lost.

The Song with the Funky Break

The year was 1986, and I clutched tightly onto the little music I knew at that time: I played, over and over, the dozens of cassettes I’d recorded from my favorite Houston radio station. I can’t recite, from memory, what songs were on those tapes until I hear one elsewhere. Then, I even remember, as it’s ending, what would have played after it. Any time I hear Banarama’s “Cruel Summer,” I will always expect Def Leppard’s “Rock of Ages” to rudely cut in after the line “So I had to get up and go,” a timing error I’d made on one of those recordings.

But Mama, That’s Where the Fun Is

From my current, comfortable perch of middle-age, I know that the new school was full of lovely people who tried to include me, and who treated me more kindly than most thirteen-year-olds are capable. But I was a hormonal teenager, determined to be miserable there, and after two years, I finally convinced my reluctant parents to beginninth grade at another private school, this one slightly more diverse and relaxed. I made friends immediately.

Where They Expect it Least

The year was 1988, the music was shit. Over the next four years, our small class adopted Manfred Mann’s 1984 “Blinded by the Light” as our unofficial song, and we tentatively worked backwards from there, exploring first the generic ’70s classic rock that played on 95.1 FM, but then branching out into the B-sides, as we gained the ability to browse and purchase music from the mall music store. Our class felt compartmentalized, not so much out of divisiveness, but teenage apathy, and sometimes it felt like our odd anthem was the only thing we all shared. In retrospect, I see the fluidity of those compartments, and a lot of my overlap will forever be bound to music. My first parentless concert – Eric Clapton – with Deanne. Exchanging mixed tapes with Stephanie to cope with our respective breakups. These musical connections bound us through college and beyond.

With a Teenage Diplomat

The year was 1995, and we were no longer teenagers who saw each other daily, but young adults who instead regrouped during holidays and summers. On August 9, in an order that I don’t remember, I learned that Jerry Garcia died, and that my mother had only a few months left to live. That evening, alone in our big house, I sat on my bathroom floor in the dark and called a handful of friends to let them know about my mom.

Trey – senior prom date/sometimes best friend/sometimes greatest antagonist – answered amongst noise, and explained that some of our friends were at his apartment, listening to the Grateful Dead and celebrating Jerry. Trey knew that I wouldn’t want to deal with the crowd, and offered to meet me at the nearby church – my church, the church where I would later marry an STJ boy from a different class – to walk around. I declined, but I still imagine that ghost-walk better than if we’d actually met that night. Knowing I had a tribe was all I needed.

She’s Gonna Make it Through the Night

Thank you, STJ class of 1992. You gave me music again, and you made me feel at home. And a belated thank you, MA Class of 1992. You starred the incomparable Meg, one of my best friends, and I wish I’d taken the time to get to know the rest of you better.

Finally, a belated apology to Bruce Springsteen—I didn’t know until a good ten years after graduation that you wrote our anthem, and recorded a much better version of it. Manfred Mann left out one of your best lines: “Asked him which was the way back home.” I know who to call on, any time I need home.

That Vibrant Community

by Foster Dickson

In the summer of 1974, I came home from Baptist Hospital to a small, brick, ranch-style house in Normandale, on the corner of Princeton Road and Byrne Drive, which my father inherited after his mother passed away in 1971. This meant that my older brother and I were raised in the house where our dad was raised, surrounded by elderly people who had known three generations of our family. My grandparents had bought the house new in the 1950s, and though I never knew them, they made the decision about the place I would call home. 

In the 1970s and ‘80s, Normandale constituted our world. We got our groceries at Winn Dixie, our Buster Browns at DeShields-Larson, our ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, our music at The Sound Shop, our books at the cavernous public library adjacent to Hancock’s Fabrics. We waved at Santa in the upper window of Loveman’s department store, helped our great-aunt Lillian stuff envelopes at the American Heart Association, and found the stairwell to the fallout shelter beautifully mysterious (before it became Underground, the teen club).

My family made a home in that corner of south Montgomery. We cut grass for as many as a dozen neighbors, my father and brother sold Christmas trees with the Boy Scouts in the median by Norman Bridge Road, and my mother was active in Floyd’s PTA and neighborhood watch. We knew the old proprietor of the Union 76 service station since my dad had worked there in high school, and we knew Winn Dixie’s meat-cutter Mr. Kennessy since my mother had been friends with his daughter. Going to Duff’s Smorgasbord, which filled the empty Loveman’s, was like an indoor block party, with families we knew spread out all over the restaurant. 

I left that house in Normandale in 1996, after finishing college at Auburn University at Montgomery. By then, that vibrant community was in the past. People had moved or passed away, and the stores in the mall were closing as the city looked east. And even though it makes me sad to see it as it is now, I know that had the privilege of passing my youth in a place where, as the Cheers theme song put it, “everybody knows your name.”

——

originally published in The Montgomery Advertiser as “Normandale: Where Everybody Knew Your Name,” in February 2020

 

in print— for the books, magazines, libraries, bookstores, and bookshelves of Generation X

The in print section of level:deepsouth is for recollections and ruminations on a book or magazine or even a bookstore or favorite library that was important, for whatever reason. In an era before the internet, books and magazines were how we got information, and bookstores – independent bookstores – and libraries, both public and personal, were how we got a hold of these precious items. Whether it was a worn paperback copy of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar or a plastic-coated library edition of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time that never got returned or a surprisingly meaningful novel that came in the form of a class assignment, whether it was your parent’s Funk & Wagnall’s encyclopedia set or some family’s members shelf full of National Geographics, books and magazines were hallmarks of identity for many Gen-Xers. And while it’s important to write about real events and real people, it’s also important to give some of our attention to the books, writers, magazines, booksellers, and newsstands that affected our lives, too. 

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