We were the two tallest children in our graduating nursery school class, so we were paired together to walk down the auditorium aisle like a bride and groom. Joe Ed wore a white linen suit, a white shirt and a red bow tie. I wore a long white satin dress with yards and yards of lace netting and petticoats. I love petticoats. I carried a small bouquet of red rose buds.
I don't think I ever got over the romance of it all.
But, Joe Ed Montgomery and I were two of about fifteen children who started kindergarten together and graduated from high school together, we were as close as brothers and sisters. My first, last and only date with him was when we were around eight, and Joe Ed and his mother took me out to dinner in the glamorous diningroom of the the General Tyler Hotel. I felt like a princess.
Of the boys, Joe Ed was always my favorite.
He picked me to be the head cheerleader of his little league football team, and as a cheerleader in high school, I watched him play every football, basketball and baseball game he ever played. I can still remember vividly once sitting in the bleechers and watching him at bat. Joe Ed was our pitcher, and a good one, and so the pitcher for the other team, thought he might just win the game if he threw the ball att Joe Ed rather than across the plate. The ball hit Joe Ed squarely in the hip. He hopped a little, threw the bat to the side, but started out for first base. I put my hands to my mouth and gasped as I saw him crumple on the ground, his legs frozen and paralyzed. It only lasted about fifteen minutes. He got up and finished the game, but I was in tears.
I was in tears another time as I sat until 3 AM in the morning in a hospital emergency room in Hogansville, waiting for doctors to put Joe Ed's eyeball back into the socket after it had gotten knocked out in a football game. Fifteen years later, Joe Ed told me that when he had cried on the way to the hospital, his father, Big Joe told him not to act like a baby. He also told me that he never played another game of football without standing over a toilet and throwing up repeatedly.
But, Joe Ed (just like Big Joe wanted him to) went to college on an athletic scholarship. He had been a big fish in a small pond in Lanier, and he wasn't so big in a university. Plus, it was the sixties and everybody was out protesting the war in Vietnam. Joe Ed was running laps. Fifteen years later he told me that he had felt like a piece of meat. "All they cared about was my body." He said. "I was a thing to them, a commodity, and they owned me - everything I did, everything I said, everything I ate. And I knew the minute I didn't perform, the minute I got hurt, the minute I stopped being valuable, they'd drop me like a hot potato." He paused. "And, Bit Joe'd never speak to me again."
Joe Ed lasted about two years before he drank himself not only off the football team, but out of the university. He spent the next ten years, working different jobs, drinking, and doing drugs. He worked for a short time for a professional football team, not as a player, but as a manager of some sort. He married one of the blond bombshell football groupies who promptly left him for one of the professional football players and took everything he owned, which wasn't much, anyway.
But every five years, when he came back to the reunions, he was Joe Ed Montgomery again, captain of the football team, Mr. Lanier High School, Most Likely to Succeed. The other guys idolized him. Even at the age of 45, they treated him like he was a celebrity. While I could hardly remember what I ate for breakfast, those guys would sit for hours and go over and over every play in god knows how many football games they played together, and Joe Ed was always the hero.
I love Joe Ed, but I think there's something sad about High School being the best time in your life.