Perhaps no time of year reminds us more of that time of our lives than football homecoming.
Something about the very feel of the air, the mellow fall sunshine and the smell of dried leaves conjures up reminisces of Friday night lights, homecoming parade, the week building up to the game.
I was never on the homecoming court, but I was a Cherokee High cheerleader my junior and senior years and that meant I got to ride in the parade through downtown Canton.
The week leading up to homecoming all the clubs would hide in barns and behind buildings to work on their floats for the parade, to make little tissue flowers and stuff them into chicken wire and spell out our hopes for our football team, most of which never came true.
There was also the bonfire in downtown Canton the night before the game, when firewood would be piled high, and the sparks were flying as we danced around the leaping flames and sung our fighting Warrior songs.
A highlight of the evening was taking a huge hammer and hitting an old car that was decorated with the name and color of the opposing team. The guys would jump on top of the car and try to break all the windows and dent the hood.
Those days seem so much more innocent when I think back to them.
I went to the homecoming dance each year with the boy that grew up to become my husband. We were recalling our 10th-grade year recently, remembering when we went to the game and dance in a Volkswagen bus along with five other couples.
Most of us did not have our own cars, and many of the guys were still too young to drive anyway. Those that did have some sort of vehicle at their disposal were considered extremely lucky.
My husband said that what the guys failed to figure in that night was how long it would take to pick up 11 people scattered all over Cherokee County and we ended up being dismally late to the game.
But it didn’t matter, because we were all so excited to wear our best outfits, our corsages and our school pride.
My parents certainly did not have loads of money to spend on new clothes, and so getting that special skirt and sweater for homecoming was a big deal.
The dance was called a sock hop, and nowadays that sounds so outmoded. But we loved it, to pile into the school gymnasium after the game and take off our shoes and leave them behind as we took to the dance floor and shagged and twisted and gyrated around to the music of the late ’60s.
Even though we had “dates,” it seemed we were just one big crowd all hanging out together.
Our football team never seemed to win, but even that did not dampen our spirits.
We loved the trappings as much or more than the actual game. Maybe that was in part because we didn’t really have much of a chance to win, no matter who we played.
But no matter, the band marched out and played the alma mater, the court royally fanned out onto the field. The cheerleaders wore their corsages with their names on the ribbons in glitter.
Spirits were high and emotions were near the surface as we embraced everything that was high school for us in those days.
The traditions continue. Now there are six high schools in Cherokee County instead of just one, everyone seems to have a car, the dances are more formal and usually held the next night.
But still, the aspects of homecoming that make it shine in our memories, no matter how long ago and far away, still take front and center on that special evening.
Nowadays there is a steady stream each year of alumni coming into the stands with old classmates to have one more chance to savor those sweet memories.
Like a cherry Coke on a drugstore stool, the actual experience was possibly not quite as sweet as we remember, but still it was special.
Life moves on, whatever we did or didn’t do in high school recedes as we move on, but there is always a little part of us that loves to go back in time and remember those happy days.