My Beloved Daughter,
My senior year was the first time that I had done much travelling. Up to this point, I had gone with your grandparents to Mississippi to see family, Alabama to visit my great-grandfather after he had a stroke, Tennessee to take Grandpa Chuck to catch the boat and pick him up, and Arkansas when we moved there for the last part of my eighth grade year. Other than that, most of our family that we visited lived in Missouri—St. Charles and its surrounding areas—so we didn’t really leave the state that much.
For my senior class trip, I went to the Bahamas for the first time. We had our (admittedly forgettable) Senior Prom at a hotel in Poplar Bluff, where we were the first class that was served roast beef, rather than steak (we even stopped at Dominos and got a pizza on our way home). This was the Saturday night after finals. I got home at just after midnight, climbed into bed and closed my eyes. The three hours that I slept seemed like nothing before your Grandma Pat was waking me up to get ready to leave.
Grandpa Chuck dropped me off at the school at around 4 AM, where I caught the bus with your Uncle Evan and the rest of our class. It was the same bus that picked me up for school every morning and it drove those of us who were going on our class trip to Lambert airport in St. Louis. We caught a TWA flight to Orlando, where we took a chartered bus to the port in Cape Canaveral. I don’t recall us having to wait too long to board. And so it began.
Our boat was the Mardi Gras. Interesting history, this ship has. It was the first ship of the Carnival Cruise line and was smaller than the one that you went on with us this past February. The doors to the cabins had a raised door jamb that was, I think, to block water from crossing the threshold. Our trip was the last voyage of this grandfather of the cruise line. It was moved to another location after this, where it was given a different name and served a few more years before being scrapped a few years later.
Originally, your Uncle Evan and I had the only room with just two students. Another student, Steve, found himself sharing our room, however, when his roommates all picked up girls that they wanted to entertain in their cabin.
The first day, Monday morning, we awoke in Freeport. The three of us found a cab and did some exploring. Your Uncle Evan and Steve rented some jet-skis and Evan lost his hat in the ocean. I remember the man who rented the skis, in his Bahamian accent, telling Evan that, if he wrecked the jet-ski, he would kick his . . . well, you get the picture. Our class sponsors—the teachers who went with us—were Mr. and Mrs. Hager. We even ran into them on the island while they were out exploring, sharing a limo with them on our way back to the ship.
We got back to the Mardi Gras later in the day to discover that our friend, Candy, had explored the island alone, even having some stranger propose to her. We asked her to join us the following day. We tried to pass it off as being protective of her but, in all honesty, it was just cool to have a pretty girl in our group.
Nassau was much different in the early nineties than it was when you were there. The thatched-roof market was a different one than the one we visited this year. Sometime between then and 2012, a hurricane had wiped out most of the island and many of the people had to rebuild. I bought the first bamboo recorder that I had ever owned. I still have a pic of it in a scrapbook somewhere, with me playing it and wearing a neon yellow cap that said “HEY, MON!!!!” on it.
That night was the captain’s cocktail party. We all had to dress up. I wore a blue blazer and navy tie. I have a picture in that same scrapbook.
Come to think of it, I hope that scrapbook didn’t get damaged the last time our basement flooded.
That night, I tried wine for the first time. I ordered a nonalcoholic wine, only to be dismayed to find that it contained .004% alcohol content. I don’t know what I was thinking when I ordered it. Truly nonalcoholic wine would just be grape juice. And I wouldn’t have needed to pay fourteen bucks a bottle for that.
The following day was the sea day, as the boat slowly made its way back to the States. We just kind of explored the ship, played some games, and even went to the gym. I rode an exercise bike . . . worst twenty seconds of my life. Heh.
We had two women who were with us as chaperons. I think they were the mothers of two of the girls in our class. Now I’ve never been much of a social person, although I have, admittedly, come out of my shell quite a bit since I was a teen. But I definitely was having a good time on this trip, even if I didn’t show it in the way that others thought that I should. But these two women decided to do something to liven up my trip. So they told our waiter, at some point when I wasn’t at the table, that it was my birthday. Imagine my shock to have a birthday cake brought out and to have the wait staff serenade me—two months after I had turned eighteen—during our last dinner. The entirety of my class gathered around the table, including my high school crush (who shall, at least in writing, always remain nameless). Having all of those eyes on shy little me absolutely MORTIFIED me.
It even made it into the yearbook. Ugh.
The next morning, we roused ourselves from bed and had a continental breakfast on the Lido deck before disembarking and heading back to the airport, where we wandered around for three hours before catching our flight home. They used to have a Universal Studios store in the airport, where I bought your Grandma Pat a pack of “Bates Motel” matches as a souvenir, since she loved the original Psycho and had watched it in the theater when she was thirteen. I think she actually used them, too, not grasping the point of a rare souvenir.
We got back to Van Buren late on Thursday night and I was so sleep-deprived from the trip that I slept all day on Friday. Jack stopped by after school, since everyone but the seniors still had class.
Saturday—one week after my Senior Prom—we had our graduation. I walked out with your Uncle Evan and I remember your Grandpa Chuck finding a good place to take pictures. The Music/Math teacher, Greg Bruton, sang a song (I wish I could remember what it was). The valedictorian gave an incredibly moving speech, followed by the salutatorian’s poem.
And then it was over. I was no longer a student at VBHS in Van Buren, MO. The Dare club sponsored “Project Graduation,” which was intended to keep us from going out and getting drunk, by taking us bowling and roller skating. We each were allowed to bring one friend, so Evan and I brought Jack and Josh King, respectively.
I can’t really explain the emotions of that time, other than to say that I found myself missing high school. It’s strange that I started out my freshman year loathing the place, only to grow to miss it. I’m confident that it had much to do with the friendships that I gained during that time. I still keep in touch with some of those friends. As I’ve gotten older, living in the Greater St. Charles area, I also find myself missing Van Buren, itself. Funny that I wanted to leave it so badly until I had done so.
But I have much more to tell you about my time after high school before I can tell you about leaving my hometown.