When You Reconnect with a High School Friend and It’s Like Picking Up Right Where You Left Off

I have no memory of actually meeting William Coulter. He transferred in from Colorado our junior year of high school and it seems we just immediately and effortlessly became friends.

We never even had a class together. But we ended up hanging out together a lot, as teenagers in a small mountain town in Alabama.

I think it started when we went to go see Adam Sandler’s new movie at the time, Big Daddy.

Then William came to some church youth function where the manager of Hardee’s donated hundreds of burgers to feed everyone. Yet still after the event ended, there were dozens of hamburgers left- and because I personally knew the manager, she gave me all the left overs to take home.

So I took two garbage bags full of unwrapped hamburgers to my house that night. William and I decided to make our challenge to eat a minimum of 24 burgers throughout the hours of the night.

We failed. But we ate more for breakfast that next morning.

There was also the time, on a very short notice and a whim, that we went on a road trip to Pensacola, Florida our senior year. Our high school had allotted us a few days to go look at colleges and we hadn’t used them up yet. So we hopped on a van and visited a very conservative college that we had no intentions on attending. (See the picture where he and I were buried in the sand from 1999.)

And thinking back on our adventures driving my parents’ Ford Aerostar minivan, equipped with paintball guns, out on back roads at night, it easily reminds me of the Alan Jackson song, “We got a little crazy but we never got caught…”

Now, we are both married and have two kids who are nearly the same ages. Another coincidence is that his wife’s name is Holly, while my wife and I named our daughter Holly. And our son’s middle name is William.

Last weekend, my dad officially unveiled his new playground, which he has been building for years now. After remembering that William and his family only live a little more than an hour away from my parents’ house, I invited his family over.

My sister’s family was there too; whose children are also in the same age range; a total of three 4 year-olds, two 9 year olds, and one 11 year-old. Our families ended up all being a perfect match, as expected.

William is one of those close friends where we always pick up right where we left off. We get older, along with our hilarious shared memories from high school.

But we relate to each other just as easily now in 2020, as we did in the late 1990s.

When You Reconnect with a Childhood Friend You Haven’t Seen in 20 Years

I have known Josh Johnson since 1985. We grew up together in Fort Payne, Alabama and graduated high school there in 1999.

One of my earlier memories in life was when his mom picked us up from Mother’s Day Out preschool and we went to his house to play.

He’s one of those people I’ve always known and have been connected to; without even meaning to or even trying. I was just always in his life and he was just always in mine: Like the concept of a “constant”, as explained in the famous TV show, Lost.

So it wasn’t random that during Class Night, which is an official celebration a few days before high school graduation, my mom snapped a photo of us together. After all, we knew each other since before Kindergarten.

The next time I would see him would be a year and a half later, randomly at the local Mexican restaurant, Mi Casita, the summer before I transferred from community college to the university where got my degree in Virginia.

And then… twenty years would pass. 

This year, my wife and I had planned our first ever “vacation without the kids” for June, in Florida… but Covid Culture messed up that plan.

So we decided to move our plans to Denver in September.

I’m not exactly sure why I knew or remembered that Josh ended up in the Denver area, but somehow that knowledge was still in my head.

Though he hasn’t logged into Facebook in years, I was able to track him down (it makes sense, as I am a recruiter for a living) and let him know about our upcoming trip.

And as the picture above proves, last Saturday, he and I reunited after 20 years; since the year 2000.

What we both probably imagined would be maybe an hour, there at Navah Coffee House, ended up being 4 hours instead! We had so much to talk about- the only reason we left after only 4 hours was because my wife and I needed to catch our flight back to Nashville.

I think something that has become apparent at this point in our lives, is that we are forever connected. Some people you just can’t shake off.

And I’m pretty sure that next time, it won’t be another 20 years this time before we see other again.

Our 20th High School Class Reunion: Fort Payne Wildcats Class of 1999

 

We have arrived.

In an age of reboots, sequels, and of course, reunions, the timing was perfect for the Fort Payne High School Class of 1999 to have our 20th reunion!

Back in May of 1999, during the week of our high school graduation, we had our class picnic in our city park. Most of us were just 18 years old and didn’t really know, and couldn’t know, what we wanted to do with our lives.

We hadn’t yet figured out what we were really good at, or bad at, or how we would even earn a living.

But during the course of two decades, it sort of forced us to figure out who we were going to be. At now that we are all pushing 40, our lives are, for the most part, figured out.

If graduating high school was like putting the car in reverse, backing it out of the garage, putting it into first, and determining which of the endless roads we were supposed to start driving down…

Then making it to our 20th high school reunion is like having the car in cruise control.

Granted, for most of us, the road we took was not a straight and easy one. That road had many surprising turns. Often that road turned us right back around in the same direction we had already come from.

But by now, we are ultimately settled in for the rest of the ride. We’re not trying to figure out who we are anymore.

We know now.

So for this class reunion in particular, it was especially a milestone. For the first time, we were catching up with the grown up doppelganger versions of each other.

I also realized by attending my 20th high school reunion, that I was fortunate to grow up with a particularly special group of people, at a special time, in a special place.

We were born in 1980 and 1981; during the start of our town’s economic boom, as Fort Payne, Alabama became “The Official Sock Capital of the World”; thanks to our town’s massive hosiery production.

Not to mention, the country group Alabama had just become living legends… and they just happen to be from our little town, located in the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains.

It was magical time and place to grow up. We are a close group of people.

Our class reunions are a really big deal to us and I am confident they always will be.

-Nick Shell

dad from day one: Won’t Ever Be Lonely

Week 6.

Maybe somewhat surprisingly, I am a proud Country music fan- though I’m ultimately a Dave Matthews Band/Guster/John Mayer/Bruce Springsteen/Tom Petty kind of guy.  In the past few weeks, in the midst of leaving our lives behind in Nashville and entering uncertainty and a current status of “in between jobs” in Alabama, not having much to do but constantly search for jobs and take care of our baby, the lyrics to a Country song by Andy Griggs from 1999 keep coming to my mind: “I promise you now, you won’t ever be lonely.”  Though the song is obviously written from the perspective of a man in love with a woman, looking forward to spending the rest of his life with her, the lyrics now speak to me in a different way:

“You’re safe from the world wrapped in my arms and I’ll never let go.  Baby, here’s where it starts and I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely. Here’s a shoulder you can cry on and a love you can rely on.  For as long as I live
there will always be a place you belong.”

But while the words to this song obviously make perfect sense in the perspective of me speaking to my child, they actually are more relevant to me in this mindset: I won’t ever be lonely.  Not just him.  But I won’t ever be lonely.

I am better able to understand now why there are so many pregnant teenagers and why MTV’s 16 and Pregnant is such a popular show- because so many kids today are lonely. (I am under the crazy notion that a good number of pregnant teens and extremely young parents are not getting pregnant simply because of the careless lack of birth control, but instead because they subconsciously want to be have a baby in a attempt to be loved by someone.) So many daughters have never been told by their fathers that they are beautiful. So many sons have never heard their father tell them “I’m proud of you”.   Having a baby definitely changes the lonely factor in many ways.  Even if the 19 year-old father who works for minimum wage at the oil change place bales on her soon after the baby is born- at least that young mother will always have someone depending on her.

Granted, I haven’t been lonely in a long time.  But I can easily remember it.  It can be painful; literally.  Last week I watched a National Geographic documentary on solitary confinement where I learned that loneliness is processed in the same part of the brain as pain.  I can easily remember being 20 years old, feeling lost, out of place, an unmatched. I wondered for the next five years if I would be like the actor who played Mr. Belvedere, who never married or had children his whole life. But at age 25, my wife and I met each other and those heavy and desperate thoughts of loneliness haven’t entered my mind in over four years.

Now at age 29, I am the opposite of lonely.  I have a wonderful wife and a beautiful and hilarious baby son that I will always matter to.  And I have a feeling that the older our son Jack gets, the more attention and energy of mine that he will require.  At least until he reaches 7th grade and gets too cool for me.

Lyrics to Andy Griggs’ “You Won’t Ever Be Lonely”:

Life may not always go your way
And every once in awhile you might have a bad day
But I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
The sky turns dark and everything goes wrong
Run to me and I’ll leave the light on
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

For as long as I live
There will always be a place you belong
Here beside me
Heart and soul baby — you only
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely

It’s still gonna snow and it’s still gonna rain
The wind’s gonna blow on a cold winter day
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
You’re safe from the world wrapped in my arms
And I’ll never let go
Baby, here’s where it starts
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
Here’s a shoulder you can cry on
And a love you can rely on
For as long as I live
There will always be a place you belong

Here beside me
Heart and soul baby — you only
And I promise you now you won’t ever be lonely
No, no, you won’t ever be lonely

The Art and Irony of Trendsetting: Featuring Crocs, Hawaiian Shirts, Voss Water, and WWJD Bracelets

Trends are only truly cool when they’re not quite cool yet.  And by the time they are in style, they’re pretty much going out of style.

Recognizing the hilariousness of how in many offices in America, it is standard that everyone dresses professionally Monday through Thursday, but on Friday, everyone goes casual with jeans and often t-shirts, at the beginning of the summer I decided to start making Thursday a “buffer” day for how I dress in the office, encouraging everyone else to participate.  How do you transition from khakis and dress shirts to jeans and t-shirts?  Hawaiian shirts.

They are button-down shirts with collars.  Perfect, tacky transition.  At first, only one other coworker would join me in Hawaiian Shirt Thursday.  But then, if for no other reason they felt like they were missing out on something cool, one by one, others began joining us.  By the end of the summer, I had half of the office on my side.  Some people dug through their closets to find the shirt; some actually went out and bought one.  And now, even in autumn, many of us are keeping the tradition going.

Of course, this isn’t the first trend I’ve started at work.  In an effort to make sure I was drinking enough water everyday, I went to Whole Foods and bought a glass Voss water bottle that I refill several times throughout the day.  At first, coworkers joked with me, “Isn’t it a little early in the day for vodka?”  By now though, several of them have privately approached me to ask where they could get a water bottle like that.  And sure enough, the glass Voss water bottle is no longer weird in my office, but instead it’s the norm.

But the irony with trendsetting is that by successfully coming up with an original and unpopular idea, it eventually becomes unoriginal and popular.  Prime example: Crocs.  For the last couple of years, I’ve looked on from a distance at the weird plastic rainbow colored Birkenstock rip-offs.  They were so trendy.  You’d see moms and their kids out at the mall, all wearing Crocs.  Even though I wanted some, I refused to buy them.  Because they were too cool at the time.

However, this week I came to a realization.  The Birkenstocks I have been wearing were given to me by my parents Christmas 1999.  I had already paid $35 five years ago to have them resoled.  It was time for me to either have them repaired again, or pay $110 for new ones.  Or… pay $30 for some brown Crocs.

To entertain the idea of buying Crocs, I checked around Cool Springs during my lunch breaks while riding my mountain bike instead of driving (another office trend I’ve been trying to start since April), but sure enough, I had trouble finding any Crocs for sale.  Eventually, some girls behind the counter at a Hallmark told me to check out the Croc stand across from Fossil in the mall.

Needless to say, with yesterday being Thursday, I wore my Hawaiian shirt, with Crocs, while drinking water from a Voss water bottle.  And boy was I cool.  Yet I wouldn’t have been caught wearing Crocs if they were still trendy.  The trend of wearing Crocs is over; which is why it was more difficult than I had imagined to find them.  I’m not saying that Crocs aren’t cool anymore; they’re just no longer a fad.

And so an important rule for a trendsetter is to not get involved in a trend that is overly popular.  But once a trend is over, then it’s “game on” to participate.  Some fads, after their prime, become an outdated, yet timeless classic.  Like Hawaiian shirts.  And Chuck Taylor’s.  And the wondrous Rubik’s Cube.  WWWD bracelets?  Not so much.