Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ernest Hooper: My 30th high school reunion was filled with joy and sorrow

Christopher Orion Callaway walked into my high school reunion last Friday with a look that belied his years.

Clean shaven and well built, he stood out without trying. He wore a simple black T-shirt and a pair of jeans, and sported a physique honed not by pumping iron in a gym but by working in a body shop and hunting and fishing.

Chris looked like someone who would help Patrick Swayze throw unruly customers out of a roadhouse bar, or a guy you would want on your side in a back alley. I spotted him in the back of the room and thought time had treated him well.

But he never left an impression on me when we walked the halls of Tallahassee's Amos P. Godby High School 30 years ago. He was a classmate, not a friend. Maybe we took PE together, maybe he sat across from me in Mr. Winger's construction class. I just can't remember.

What I can remember is how he appeared to be in good spirits at the reunion. We all reveled in the reminiscing and the reconnecting. Even our old principal, now state Sen. Bill Montford, came out for the event.

Chris got together with Wayne Vick and Fred Hewett, two of his childhood friends, and they took up where they left off three decades ago. Wayne asked about Chris' parents and brother.

"He told me his parents still lived in the same house," Wayne said. "He told me to go by and see his mother. He said his brother, Bruce, was in the Special Forces and had been in every war. I could tell he was proud of Bruce. During our conversation, he told me twice more to go see his mother."

Meanwhile, another classmate and one of my closest friends, Mike Cobb, had flown all the way from Hawaii to relive the good times and create some more. Mike works as a certified financial planner in the day and sings in a band at night because, he says, everybody in Hawaii works two jobs.

A lot of us wanted to hear Mike sing as he used to back in high school. And if you know Mike, you know he wanted to deliver. So when the meet and greet broke up, we ventured out to Julie's Place, a popular Tallahassee spot known for karaoke.

Sure enough, Mike took the stage, we applauded and I flashed back to a memorable day in the gym when Mike serenaded the vice principal with Three Times a Lady.

As the night wound down, we started our goodbyes, and that familiar question began to be bandied about: "Are you okay to drive?" The only time I spoke to Chris the entire night came late in the evening and in my untrained estimation, he seemed fine.

Another classmate spoke to him just before he drove off in his pickup truck with Fred Hewett, who needed a ride to the home where he was spending the night.

She, too, thought Chris was lucid and clear.

The next morning we awoke to the news that Chris had lost control of his truck and died in a crash on Interstate 10. Fred survived, suffering only minor injuries. Police have not determined if alcohol was a factor.

For the rest of the weekend, Godby High's Class of '82 carried heavy hearts.

You go through life knowing you will experience highs and lows, but never in my 48 years have such mixed emotions collided in such a stunning manner.

We were so sad about Chris' death, so glad that Fred survived. We were so thrilled to see old friends, so shocked that Chris was gone.

I've spent all week trying to unravel some meaning from what happened, only to end up lost in life's mysteries. Some may make judgmental assessments, but it seems the deeper message lies in appreciating every moment and treasuring every friendship — whether it's your best friend or just an acquaintance.

Chris did just that, getting one last chance to see old classmates. His obituary said he lived life with fierce intensity, never wasting a moment.

Wayne did indeed go see Chris' mother the day after Chris' death, just as Chris had asked. She said Wayne's visit made her day.

And in the end I realized it's okay to enjoy the company of your friends and feel sad about a classmate's death. We grieved together.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper: My 30th high school reunion was filled with joy and sorrow

07/26/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 26, 2012 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 5 things to know before Tampa Bay Comic Con this weekend

    Events

    Tampa Bay Comic Con returns to the Tampa Convention Center this weekend, expected to attract more than 55,000 like-minded nerds mingling with cosplayers, celebrities, artists and sellers of comic books and collectibles.

    Surrounded by the bridesmaids dressed as Disney princesses and groomsmen dressed as Marvel superheroes, Gwen Walter of Venice, Fla., kisses her husband, Shawn Walter, also of Venice, after their wedding ceremony on day two of the 2016 Tampa Bay Comic Con in the Tampa Convention Center on August 6, 2016. The pair got engaged at Megacon 2015 and were married wearing "Nightmare Before Christmas"-themed costumes. Two different couples were married in Room 24 on the second day of the Tampa Bay Comic Con 2016. ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times
  2. White House tensions catch fire with Scaramucci interviews (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's new communications director exploded the smoldering tensions at the White House into a full-fledged conflagration Thursday, angrily daring Trump's chief of …

    White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci gestures as he answers a question during a press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing room of the White House in Washington on July 21, 2017. Scaramucci offered newsroom leaders a test on Thursday. They needed to decide whether to fully use the obscenities relied on by Scaramucci to describe fellow White House aides or talk around them. [Associated Press]
  3. Forecast: Drier pattern ending in Tampa Bay as front brings building rain chances throughout weekend

    Weather

    The drier, hot weather pattern across Tampa Bay will remain in place Friday before rain chances start to ramp up yet again through the weekend and into next week.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  4. Police investigating death of child in Largo

    Accidents

    LARGO — An investigation is underway into the death of a child Thursday night at a mobile home park and a 25-year-old man has been named as a suspect, the Largo Police Department said.

  5. Goodbye, iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle: Apple kills products as music moves to phones

    Science

    SAN FRANCISCO — The iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle have played their final notes for Apple.

    An iPod, iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle are displayed at an Apple store in New York in 2015. The company discontinued sales of the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle on Thursday, July 27, 2017, in a move reflecting the waning popularity of the devices in an era when most people store or stream their tunes on smartphones. [Associated Press]