Documentary by Brendan Camp LeGrand for Shelby High School Class of 1966 40th Reunion on November 4, 2006


We are the Baby Boomers, the children of the “Greatest Generation,” the soldiers of World War II, who returned home triumphant, and eager to go to work, marry, and start a family.

Hope ran high and futures were bright as mills and factories flourished with a renewed labor force to run them.

The village formed around the mill was self-contained, as the mill provided jobs, housing, and a company store, and much of the money earned there was returned to the mill by the way of groceries and rent.

The mill was the nucleus of the village, and owned the lives and maybe the souls of the people who worked there.

The village churches provided for spiritual needs, the mill clubhouse was the center for social life, and the grammar school provided for the education of the younger children.  So, much of our early years were spent within the village.

Cotton was king and the textile industry grew powerful as the demand for the yarns and fabrics increased.

But mill work was hard and wages were low, and a generation grew too old too soon on the floors of the hot, noisy mill rooms, where they traded their own dreams for the dreams they had for their children—dreams of a better education, which they knew was the key to a better life for us.

We are the children of doctors and lawyers, of teachers and preachers, policemen and firemen, office and shop clerks, who taught us to reach for the sky, that with dedication and discipline we could achieve anything, and become whatever we wanted to be.

We are the sons and daughters of tradesmen and shop and business owners who were groomed to follow in our parents’ footsteps, future heirs to the family business, whose goal was for us to get a good education, and return to help run things in a better and more efficient manner.

We grew up in the neighborhoods that bordered uptown and extended to the fringes of the city, and we attended the grammar school that was in our residential district.

We pledged allegiance to the flag, and started the school day with a prayer.  We had fun, and didn’t realize that we were learning.  We had Halloween carnivals, Christmas pageants, and school plays, and we took field trips and played ball and learned the polka.  We swapped valentines, passed notes and had to stay after school, made potholders, memories, and friends.

Television, movies, and books took us to places far away.  We escaped in their stories, and lived out their adventures, though we could count our ages on two hands.  They expanded our horizons and stretched our imaginations, and we became dreamers of dreams.

Our heroes hit grand slams, rode tall in the saddle, and married the prince.  They saved the day, rode off into the sunset, and lived happily ever after.  And this was the life we wanted for ourselves.

In Junior High we merged into one school.  Football foes became our teammates, bonding together as only the young can do.  We grew tall and independent, and too old for our bicycles and our parents’ kisses.  We wore madras and Bass Weejuns and reeked of too much English Leather.

Our voices changed and simultaneously we seemed to find them.  We had opinions that were subject to change, but we were happy to express them.  The smartest part about us was our mouths.  We were feeling our oats, testing our wings, and trying our parents’ and teachers’ patience as we went about trying to find ourselves.

The girls studied home economics and the boys studied industrial arts, and we began to study each other.  We groomed and primped, had spend-the-night parties with our friends, went to movies, and talked on the phone.

Teen Club was Saturday night at Shelby City Park.  Bill Baley was our chaperone.  Classmate K. C. Messick played the 45s.  We learned to dance there, we got together there, and we broke up there.  Sometimes we went home with a new romance, sometimes we went home with a broken heart.  But the next Saturday night, we were back.  “Wonderland By Night” and “Last Date” still echo through the chambers of our souls.

The school year began with the county fair.  We had school passes and a day off from school, and we made our way down the sawdust-covered midway, through the exhibit halls and barns, gaping at the sideshows, and trying our hand at winning prizes.  We rode rides, ate vinegar fries, cotton candy, and candy apples.  We watched the fireworks display and went home exhausted and content.

Football Friday nights we became hoarse cheering our team on to victory.  We even sat through the rain, drenched to the bone, feeling our bodies vibrate to the sound of each drumbeat, as the band played our fight song. GO LIONS!

We learned to drive and cruised the hangouts, went to Charlotte for pizza, and some of us went down south. We remember the cars, and the ones who drove them—mass exodus at 3 p.m.—tires spinning in the school parking lot, drag racing down the back road.

The day Kennedy was shot we were in the tenth grade.  The tragic news on the radio was blared to us over the school intercom.  Our president had been shot and was dead.  Stunned, then moved to tears, we lost an innocence that we would never regain.

We dissected frogs, learned slide rule scales, wrote papers, and gave reports.  We learned a language and learned how to type, joined the chorus, the clubs, and the band.

We soaked up an education, some suds and some sun, and congregated and let off steam.

By graduation Vietnam hung over us like an ugly cloud.  We were divided by how we felt about the war, but we stood together and fought proudly, duty bound.  Some of us never returned, and some who did never recovered.  A salute of gratitude to you who were there, for a long-overdue hero’s welcome home. Bravo!

Some of us went off to college, some of us went to work, some of us got married and stayed home, some of us moved away, some went to learn a trade, but we scattered in pursuit of our life’s dreams.

Though we’ve gone our separate ways, the strength of the bond we formed with those we were young with stretches across the miles and years.  Conversations pick up years later where they left off.  Memories warm our hearts, and remind us that these are our friends for life.

The mills are boarded up now, cordoned with chain-link fences and topped off with rolled barbed wire.  Proud fortresses of derelict, broken windows and overgrown yards, crumbling testaments to another era, ghost towns of the villages of our past lives, before manufacturing moved away and left the USA.

Many of the storefronts now stand empty.  The shops uptown have moved to the mall. But the highway by the school has become a thoroughfare, with new businesses opening all the time.

And our Alma Mater stands proudly, though the echo of our footsteps is long gone.  Another generation raises her flag now, but many of us still sit in the stands cheering her on to victory, as seasons have turned into decades, still her loyal and devoted fans.

Our school motto was “Depart to Serve” and we’ve responded well.  We’ve taken our places, made our marks, and done more than we set out to do.  We’ve earned our stripes, our pensions and praise, taken charge and given thanks.  We’ve stood tall, and we’ve been brought to our knees, we’ve followed worn paths and blazed new trails.

We are older now.  And wiser?  Maybe.  We have lived and loved and laughed and cried, persisted and persevered.  We’ve realized some of our dreams, and are still pursuing others, ever hopeful.

Looking back, we’ve “come a long way, baby,” and we “have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.”  May God continue with us on our journey.