Chapter 12: The Original Breakfast Club

As I think back, I realize my High School friends and I were the Original Breakfast Club.  You know, like the John Hughes movie in the 1980’s.    Except our bonds were by choice, not forced by Detention…

We all also seemed to be ahead of our time in a couple of ways.  First, we formed a “family” by choice, not by birth, and we pioneered the “group dating” concept that seems to be the “new normal” for kids today.

Back then, 35 years ago, we were just strange.  Our so we liked to think that’s how people saw us.  Who knows where the truth lies after so many years?

We were a disparate group.  Each very individual, but with so many things in common.  And we clung to each other and needed each other, even if we would not or could not admit it then…

Our group had the Sensitive Jocks- both male and female.  The Nerds.  The Avant Guard.   The Social Pioneers.  The Artistes.  The Preppies.  The Brains.  The Socialites.  The Outsiders.  Sometimes all in the same person.

The one thing we had in common was we all thought we were all too smart for the little room that was Danville, Virginia in 1975, 1976 or 1977.  And we were right.

We were also mostly good kids and smart kids whose parents didn’t quite know what to do with us.  Smart was not something they knew how to handle.  All our parents were determined that we go on to College and succeed, but they didn’t know how to get us there.  We were on our own, most of us, as the first generation in our families to go on to College.

We were leaving our birth families behind very quickly and needed each other to get us to the next level in life.

We somehow knew we were going to take a big step in life that our parents were not equipped to understand…so we had to have each other.

Some of us went far away to College.  Most of us stayed in Virginia where we could still see each other on weekend road trips.  We went to schools like Washington and Lee University, Randolph Macon Woman’s College, Mary Washington College, Mary Baldwin College, James Madison University and the University of Virginia.  Some of us took different paths and ultimately didn’t go away to College at all…

The Group expanded and contracted over time, but there was a core group that, those who survive, still have bonds that last through today.

We were called many things in our time and I think we hoped to be called more.  We wanted to be more sophisticated than anyone else we knew.  We wanted to be special.

We also were not “big group” people.  We may have been parts of larger groups, but we never really felt like we belonged anywhere but with each other.

For instance, my parents insisted I be part of the High School Band.  I met some great people there, but never felt I belonged there.  I wanted to spend my weekends with my friends.  I quit after a year or two…

As I said, we were an unofficial “family” even if we didn’t see ourselves that way at the time…We dreamed of getting out of Danville.  We talked about how we would all live together, in our separate apartments of course,  in New York.  Others argued that we were crazy to have these thoughts….but we were determined to leave the Big D and most of us did.

Now, if I were to look back at our High School yearbooks– of which I was one of the key editors- you would never think of us as outsiders.  We either ran or were in all the key clubs, groups, activities, sports and social events.

When dances came along, we divided up and went.  But not as couples.  It was the Group that mattered.  We all wanted to be together, not coupled off.  Well, most of us….

It was a different time and place where on a Friday or Saturday night, you could spend $1.99 on a six-pack of beer and 50 cents on a pack of cigarettes and ride around and feel free all night.  As long as you each chipped in a dollar for gas for the designated driver…

On a really good night, one of our older friends went to the liquor store.  On a really, really good night, one of our parents were out of town and we could take over a house and have a drunken slumber party.  We would spend the night talking and drinking.  That’s all…

We just never felt like we belonged were we were….I guess that’s mainly because we were 16, 17 or almost 18.  No one should feel they really belong anywhere at that age.  If you do, you are in for a rough life after High School…

Time passed.  We still stayed in touch, but not as frequently.  We married.  We found partners.  Some had children.  We had careers….We learned we were more different from each other than perhaps we imagined in 1977.  But it didn’t matter.  We had those years together and we were bonded. For life.

When parents began to die, if at all possible, we all came to the funerals to support each other.

When the first one of us died, we all pulled together in a way that amazed our parents.

I’ll name a name here.  I’ll speak the name because I don’t want it to be forgotten…

Dennis Elliott died in the early 1990’s.  He was the first of us to go.  In many ways, he was the star of our group that drew us together.  He was smart– very smart, funny, talented and insecure as hell.  He was the first one to withdraw from the “family” and go out on his own.  I think he thought he had to leave us behind to find himself.  Unfortunately, I think instead he lost himself along the way…

He put up walls and left us behind.  We never quite knew why…

But when he died, we all came together again.  With a kind of love and anger that was only possible when you are 30-ish and the first one of The Group dies.

We had suddenly moved from “The Breakfast Club” to “The Big Chill.”  Very much against our will…

Dennis died of AIDS.  His family said Cancer.  Everyone knew the truth, but we let his family do what they needed to do.  It was Danville and the truth never really mattered there…

I’ll never forget how we all gathered in the cemetery at his funeral and his mother’s amazement when she looked around and saw that we all had come.  She came over to us with tears in her eyes…

We had not seen him in years.  He had pushed us away…but he was still one of us and part of us.  He still is…

I’ll also give my Mother some credit.  We lived around the corner from his family and did not feel we could be honest and part of the group at the “official” family reception.  We gathered at my Mother’s house for the unofficial “family” gathering.  Mad as hell.  Angry at everyone and everything. Furious at the injustice of it all.  Scared and vulnerable at facing death among our own….She opened the house, gave us our space and stayed out of our way.  I thank her for that.  She gave us room to move and room to grieve.  She recognized we were a family she was not a  part of…

We all still talk.  We have FaceBook.  We see each other every now and then.

And I doubt any of us has ever forgotten a moment of what it was like when we were young together in Danville Virginia in the late 1970’s.

We were brothers and sisters and we still are- some closer, some more distant.  But we are still bonded…

Like most families….

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6 Responses to Chapter 12: The Original Breakfast Club

  1. Pingback: Chapter 12: The Original Breakfast Club | My Southern Gothic Life | Lost in the 21st Century

  2. Van says:

    I am speechless! It is amazing how you are able to articulate our past in such a fascinating manner. I never thought of us as the “Breakfast Club!” Scott, your blog is above and beyond and someday I hope to see it all in a published book and on the New York Times best seller list!!!!!!

  3. John says:

    Scott , I really enjoy your posts about Danville. I remember sometimes going out to lunch with you guys during High School and one memory that frequently have is Frank vamping to various David Bowie songs during lunch hour. Back then I couldn’t wait to get the hell outta Danville . Now 27 years later I go back once a month to visit one of my last living relatives at Roman Eagle and I now realize my good memories outweigh the bad memories. Keep writing

  4. Aunt Lily says:

    Dennis would have been strikingly handsome in middle age. It saddens me to think what might have been.

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