Generally Speaking: God things

By MARILYN TINNIN COLUMNIST,

Indianola High School’s Class of 1969 just enjoyed our 50th reunion.

I am sure there are many quite grown up and even past 30 year old Indianolans who have no idea that there ever was an Indianola High School. Well, let me just tell you.

There was, and it was some kind of great school.

The more I read about public education and its 2019 woes, the more I realize how very blessed we were for decades and decades to have had the salt-of-the-earth, well read, hardworking, committed faculty of IHS who poured into us a vision of a big world beyond the parameters of Sunflower County and the Delta Valley Conference — although that was a mighty fine geographic area!

Nobody told us we needed to leave to find some great meaning in life. Some of us left; some of us did not, but not a one of us felt that in staying we were choosing anything second class. Indianola was and is a special place.

There were 69 of us who graduated together in the old un-air-conditioned gymnasium on a May evening in 1969.

Our commencement speaker was an aspiring young politico named Bill Waller who was rumored to be running for governor in the next election.

He was enough older than we were that we were in awe of his accomplishments and thought him to be a celebrity.

He was all about Mississippi’s future, and he assured us we were it!

We felt very self-important at the time, but hopefully, we were humbled in good ways as the years unfolded.

Still, as we reassembled at 10, 15, 20, 30 years and beyond, it was almost a God thing the way we could reconnect as classmates despite the different paths we had taken. I think the best descriptive word of our reunions has been “laughter” and lots of it.

Most of us have beenfriends, if not before the big red brick long demolished Lockard Elementary School, then ever since for sure! It is as though the years melt away every time we get in the same room and start to tell our stories. After all, who but friends, can continue to tell the same stories decade after decade and laugh even harder as years go by.

So, today a “Wrap up” email arrived from “Johnny Mc” as we have all called him since first grade. He is a reputable attorney in Indianola who now has gray hair and is probably called Mr. McWilliams with much more respect and decorum. He shared a story that is just too good to let pass.

Jackie Pannel was a much loved classmate who died way too young in a tragic automobile accident.

He played football at IHS, but mostly he is remembered for being everybody’s friend and someone who enjoyed life to the max. Jackie would have taken the shirt off his back to help a friend — but study for Mrs. Shuttleworth’s  Chaucer test…maybe not so much. Still, there was nobody who did not love Jackie.

Jackie seems to have had a brief romance our junior year with Barbara Bellipanni, the girl who could absolutely dominate the dance floor to the point that the rest of us quietly retreated to the shadows.

There was nobody, except maybe Amy Allen, who could even come close to holding a candle to Barbara. By the way, the years have been kind to Barbara.

Despite having dealt with breast cancer a few years ago, she can still move like she is 16 years old.

On Friday evening of our reunion, Jackie’s son JJ and his adorable better half, Mary Bess, joined us at Johnny Mc and Barry’s house for some reminiscing.

I think JJ was rather young when he lost his dad. There were lots of things Jackie never got to do with JJ, and Jackie’s friends, for sure, wanted to be sure JJ knew a significant part of his dad’s life that his dad never got to share with him.

The reminiscing stretched on, and Barbara remembered a locket she had that Jackie had given her in the eleventh grade.

JJ has two daughters who only know of their grandfather through stories and old photographs.

Barbara lives in Arkansas now, but when she got home, she found that locket, sent it to Johnny Mc and asked him to be sure it found its way to sweet Mary Bess Pannel to save for her daughters, Jackie’s granddaughters. It makes the story even more special that Johnny gave it to Mary Bess on a Sunday morning at the good ole First United Methodist Church. There just seems to be something incredibly hopeful and beautiful in that.

Johnny included a photo of the locket in the email to us. There it was engraved, “Love, Jackie.” Prophetic, in a way.

There are just no words, but a big lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, and a deep joy that two little girls are going to have a tangible  little memory of a very dear man who would probably have been bragging on them had he been at our 50th reunion.

Good friends are forever.

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