(July 21, 2019). To say it was a scorcher in my hometown in Virginia this weekend would be an understatement.
Oh, and the weather was hot, too!
Temperatures reached 105 degrees on Friday and reached triple digits on Sunday as well.
This weekend I returned to Central Virginia for Petersburg High School’s Class of 84 Reunion. It was our 35th – an event for which we showed up and showed out! A fellowship experience that moved me so much I decided to pay tribute with a short article dedicated to my hometown and, especially, to my beloved classmates.
With much of the affair at the Country Club of Petersburg (CCP) near Battlefield Park, we showed up by the dozens – far fewer than the more than 450 of us who crossed the stage at Cameron Field in burgundy and gold caps and gowns on that hot June day in 1984 – but enough of us to make it an affair to remember!
There were hugs, kisses, laughs, tears, tributes, plenty of food and, of course, libations.
Oh, and lots of music and dancing…more on that in a minute.
In addition to the social gatherings, we held two key services – a community service on Saturday afternoon at the Petersburg Hope Center, where we fed the homeless (unfortunately our classmates outnumbered the homeless), and a church service on Sunday morning at Third Baptist Church on Farmer St. where our classmate Vincent Harris served as guest pastor. He delivered a sermon that resonated with not just classmates, but everyone in attendance…the main message being: God is still in charge.
The weekend started with a meet-and-greet at the CCP, an informal gathering with light hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. The food included mini crab cakes with Remoulade sauce, teriyaki chicken kabobs, vegetable spring rolls, artichoke and spinach dip (with chips), antipasto skewers and crackers.
The club’s normal occupants – let’s just say they were folks of a lighter hue with lots of old money – were dining in rooms nearby and likely didn’t know what hit them when #PHS84 took over the venue’s main lounge and patio. The music – some new, some old; all hip-hop and R&B – was provided by DJ Ricky Curry (and a couple of guests) who played jams from yesterday and today.
There was the normal fare, including the obligatory line-dancing tunes and Frankie Beverly & Maze’s timeless classic, “Before I Let Go.” There even was a birthday celebration as the class sang “Happy Birthday” – Stevie Wonder style – to Classmates Dinean Smith and Melissa Goode-Turner. The two ladies took center stage on the dance floor as their classmates circled them and sang Wonder’s classic at the top of their lungs…in unison and perfectly in key!
However, as the night wore on and the drinks began to settle in, perhaps no song got the crowd more amped than a surprise tune that seemed to come out of nowhere.
The 1979 summer jam “Firecracker” by the group Mass Production (not Brass Construction as many people think) began blaring from the speakers, and nearly everyone in attendance hit the dance floor…hard. Ironically, it was the song that resonated with the crowd the most, despite the fact that it came out during the summer between our 7th- and 8th-grade years and certainly wasn’t connected to our graduation class.
Being a music history man, I couldn’t help but research the history of “Firecracker” and note that it entered the top 40 of the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart exactly 40 years ago today (July 21, 1979) on its way to a No. 4 peak. That was also the summer that the Class of ‘84 shut down the Petersburg Middle School – the building that until 1979 housed nothing but the city’s 7th graders who had come from elementary schools all over the city to converge in one location for that one year before moving on to Peabody Junior High. The school closed permanently after we advanced to 8th grade (and we like to think we were the reason…so we were).
“Firecracker” and the much more recent feel-good tune “Smile (Living My Best Life)” by Lil Duval featuring Snoop Dogg seemed to be the most popular tunes of the weekend, although classics by Sugar Hill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”) and Soul Sonic Force (“Planet Rock”) also kept our butts moving and our mouths singing along. (In a nod to today’s hits, DJ Rickie, who is also a classmate, played the current No. 1 song “Old Town Road,” which, um, didn’t have quite the same effect as “Firecracker.”)
The next night was a much more formal affair. The classmates were dressed to the nines (as we used to say) with suits, dresses and tuxedos that would have looked good at any red carpet event.
A sit-down dinner included the club’s signature salad with honey balsamic vinaigrette (I had three of them), herb-roasted chicken, prime rib au jus, fresh-roasted vegetables, sautéed string beans, twice-stuffed potatoes, herbed rice pilaf, and rolls with butter.
Oh, and a New York Style cheesecake that was the bomb (I just had one of those).
The cash bar returned and the drinks and shots were flowing (and for some, the cigars were glowing on the patio). And, of course the dancing continued with some of the same tunes from the night before making their return engagements.
But the highlights from Night Two were the superlatives and the tributes.
First, yours truly and Tim West – a classmate and long-time best friend I call “Stickman” (the name goes as far back as 1976) – paid tribute to our fallen classmates. Thirty-eight dearly departed members of the PHS Class of ‘84 have made the transition since we marched at Cameron Field, some as early as 1986 and others as recently as this year.
It goes without saying that their losses have been hard on those of us still here and they are truly missed. The name of each deceased classmate was read followed by a bell chime and brief moment of silence commemorating each one.
Then classmate and committee member Michael Stiles gave the most rousing, most heartfelt speech of the night as he recalled the joys, trials and tribulations that accompanied the nearly three years worth of planning for this weekend – events he both lamented and cherished as he called fellow planners – and longtime close friends – Tim West and Kurt Peerman to the front to thank them for being there for him when he needed it most.
The most important message Michael gave was one of inclusiveness, particularly intended for those classmates who didn’t show up. He reminded folks that #PHS84 was always a class that welcomed everyone – no matter what your station in life. It was a message meant to be carried by word of mouth with the hopes that the turnout for the 40th would be even bigger.
That speech was followed by the superlatives.
Classmate and fellow planner Sonja Tucker Pride handled the honors as she presented classmates with gift cards donated by the planning committee members.
Longest distance traveled (from California) went to Beverly McLean Murray. Youngest child (age 6) went to Keith T. Parker. Most recently married was Rick Barnett (Sept. 2018).
Least changed classmates were Ronnie Lanier and Sharon Mathews (I don’t believe either has gained a pound since 1984).
There were other superlatives as well, including Most School Spirited (Carl Harris) and a military tribute to the longest serving as well as any who’ve served our country in uniform.
But the most anticipated crowning of the night were King and Queen, which – according to classmates’ votes – went very deservingly to Michael Stiles and Vanessa Floyd.
Indeed it was Vanessa’s vision that guided this reunion, and it was her determination and patience that saw it through…even when it seemed that various obstacles and hurdles would derail it.
Vanessa gave what was perhaps the perfect capper on Sunday morning following the church service. Recalling that the Class of ‘84 is indeed her family, she reflected on the exasperation of all the planning and how the culmination of this weekend’s events made her heart smile. She also offered that she is taking a (much deserved) “mini-retirement” from being on the planning committee for the next reunion in order to gather herself and focus on family and career.
But her most important message of the day was one that resonated throughout the entire weekend: Love.
Vanessa loves the Class of ‘84 and #PHS84 loves her.
And we have much love for each other…and that’s what mattered the most this weekend!
PHS Class of ‘84