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|A Gathering of Friends|
By: Patricia Weems Simon
"Memories are most precious when shared with the old friends who helped create them." The girls of WHS '66
About a year ago, Candy Elrod Priest of Plano, Texas, formerly of Winnsboro, felt compelled to meet with old friends from high school but worried that they might not feel quite the same. However, she boldly located and contacted them one by one. This was never intended to be a traditional class reunion but a gathering of high school girlfriends. After several phone calls and emails, the idea was well received and a strategy was undertaken to plan the ultimate "girls' weekend out." Candy, along with Sue Freeman Grace of Monroe, made all the arrangements for the group to congregate on Oct. 3-5, 2008 in Vicksburg, Miss., at the Annabelle Bed & Breakfast, est. circa 1868.
Five of the six women planning to attend met in Monroe for lunch at the Waterfront Grill before traveling on to Vicksburg. Joining Candy and Sue for lunch were Kay Busby Lofton of Pollock, La, Georgianna O'Neal Emfinger of Monroe and Patricia Reems Simon of Winnsboro.
Ann Lowe Cretin of Franklin, Tenn., would fly into Jackson and the group would pick her up later. Another member of this girlfriend group is Susan Guimbellot Sturdivant of Winnfield, who was unable to attend the weekend reunion pending the imminent arrival of a grandchild.
Upon arriving at the historic Annabelle B&B, the group was greeted with their famous lace cookies in the Victorian parlor and further delighted when a bouquet of pink roses and mixed seasonal flowers was delivered from Linda Duplissey Walsh of Tybee Island, Ga., who was unable to attend due to prior commitments. The Annabelle's owners and hosts for the weekend gave a run-down of weekend activities as well as advice on the best known local eateries. While everyone agreed that food and fun are important, the main focus of this weekend was for this small group of once "best friends" to reconnect, share their life stories, and reminiscence. Several of these women had not seen each other since their 1966 graduation, so there was definitely a lot to talk about! While enjoying the natural light and beauty of the parlor, we were also reminded that each one of us would turn "60" this year, and we decided a birthday celebration was in order.
Strolling down historic Washington Street, we window-shopped before choosing elegant Borrello's Italian Restaurant for dinner. Live music added to the party atmosphere of the evening. As though timed perfectly, Linda called from Georgia just prior to the meal. The phone was passed around the table so that each one could speak with her and fill her in on the fun she was missing.
After returning to the Annabelle, the group donned pajamas and retreated to one of the guest rooms for a late night session of sharing family photos and grandchildren stories. As Friday night turned into Saturday morning, we laughed and cried over life's joys, lessons and losses. Everyone agreed that we were so thankful for the moral lessons as well as a foundation of faith and religious background instilled by our parents. Ann took this opportunity to share a Lifeway publication filled with devotions and gave each of us a copy.
Coffee is served at the Annabelle at 8:45 a.m., with breakfast following promptly at 9. Saturday promised to be cool and sunny as we started the day off with a delicious meal of garlic cheese grits, eggs, sausage, cinnamon apples and biscuits filled with strawberry butter, prepared by host Paul, who also joined us. He and wife Carolyn have owned the Annabelle for five years and furnished it with old family relics as well as antiques they purchased locally. They make their own soap petals in various colors which can be found in each guest room. He also encouraged us to utilize the parlor more but we pointed out that we wanted to pretend we were enjoying the "pallet parties" of days gone by so the guest bedrooms were more in order.
The Vicksburg Fall Festival provided a music-filled morning of shopping sidewalk sales as well as arts and crafts booths, followed by a late lunch at the local favorite, Rusty's Waterfront Grill. Upon returning to the Annabelle, we were joined by Ann's mother and sister, Mrs. Lanie Lowe and Jane Clark, both of Winnsboro. Georgianna gifted everyone with an antique cup filled with goodies, and we prompted requested our host to serve afternoon coffee and tea. Sue took the honors of serving a cake she had brought to share – a small white layered confection with our names imprinted in black on the side and topped with a large black and gold WHS. We sang the Winnsboro High School Alma Mater and harmonized other 60's tunes. This entire group was formerly known as the "Swinging Kans" back in high school and was surprised to find that we still sound pretty good!
After an informal dinner, another midnight "pajama party" found us pouring over WHS yearbooks from 1962 through 1966. Sue's senior scrapbook was a big hit as we read Franklin Sun articles relating to 1966 senior parties, football games and graduation. Black & Gold Gazettes as well as spirit ribbons were also good for some laughs and memories. Sue had thought ahead and brought everyone a "Friend" frame to hold a special photo from this weekend. Candy announced she has perfected computerized memory albums and agreed to make one for everybody.
Sunday morning's breakfast of fruit compote, sausage and blueberry pancakes was enjoyed while we shared ideas from our youth that proved to be different from what we had expected. Life has been different for all of us but a bond of friendship and love still exists between us. We promised to stay in touch and to plan on meeting again like this weekend. It was a bittersweet moment as 6 women, beautiful in spirit, if not in their once youthful bodies, encircled and held hands while each would utter a prayer of thanksgiving for memories of the past, this event of the present and promises of future get-togethers. Maturity has reminded us to celebrate the sheer joy of being alive … and to thank God for life's pleasures – the people we meet, the food we eat, the sunshine coming through the trees, and the company of old friends.
To sum it up, Candy's idea of a girlfriend get-together was a huge success, and to quote now deceased Franklin Sun social event editor, Ouida Hassell, "a good time was had by all!"