Oh, what a night.
I’m just thrilled for the 200-plus Sealy teenagers who donned their caps and gowns and accepted diplomas Friday night.
I graduated high school in 1995, and when my parents asked me what I wanted for a senior gift, I didn’t hesitate. My grandparents Jeanne and Dah went on vacation every summer with Jeanne’s sister Honey and Honey’s husband Big Mike. I asked if I could join them. My grandfather Dah, who is the greatest person I’ve ever known, was dying of lung cancer and we’d been told that summer would probably be his last chance to go on vacation. Turns out it was, in fact, his last major trip.
So at 18 years old, I packed a duffel bag and went to Seattle and Canada with four old people (they were probably in their late 60s but they seemed awfully old to me).
We ate big chicken fried steaks and got to have dessert with every meal. We stayed in hotels where I didn’t have to make my bed. At the time I was reading “Life on the Edge: The Next Generation’s Guide to a Meaningful Future” by James Dobson, a graduation gift from my friend Susan’s parents.
One night we were watching the news in our hotel room and the news anchor provided some tips for those who encounter bears while hiking in the woods.
“Clap your hands and announce your presence,” she said. “Tap two sticks together. Say, ‘Hey, bear.’”
Dah and I lost it.
“Hey, bear” became our greeting to each other for the next few years until his death. I got to take his picture next to a sign that said “watch out for bears” or something along those lines. He tried to get me to sit in wet paint for a photo opp. We laughed and laughed and after the trip he would send me letters at college that always opened with, “Hey, bear.”
It was one of the best experiences of my life, and something I’ll never forget.
My great uncle Big Mike had been a reporter for The Dallas Morning News and was in the motorcade when JFK was assassinated. To this day, his front-page story hangs on the wall of the LBJ Library in Austin. It was so cool to watch him interview everyone he met. By the time we left a restaurant, he’d know the life story of every member of the wait staff. Although the fuse had long been lit, being in the presence of a real reporter inspired me to pursue a career in journalism.
Jeanne and Honey also kept me laughing. We got stopped by Customs when crossing the border because Aunt Honey had about 9,000 bags of white powder in her suitcase.
“That’s for my diet shakes,” she informed the border agents.
I was mortified.
The little old ladies asked for the music to be turned down at every restaurant.
I was mortified.
Now I make milkshakes with little packets of white powder and loud music in restaurants drives me crazy.
Today, Jeanne and Honey are still with us, but their husbands have gone to a better place. The sisters, who are now in their late 80s, still talk about that trip 20 years ago. While I gained the experience of a lifetime, they thought it was pretty cool that a teenager wanted to spend a week with them.
When you’re 18 years old, it seems like dating and frat parties and spring break are the only things worth living for. Don’t miss out on opportunities to spend time with your families. Learn from their wisdom and life experiences. Cherish them. They won’t be with you forever.
April Towery is the managing editor of The Sealy News. She can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.