Both the grade school and high school (right side of picture) in Buckley were contained in one building. Graduating classes were always small due to the town's small population of 500.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2000-2013
by Barbara Brabec
All Rights Reserved
Barbara Brabec's World
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Nostalgic Memories of Peonies
and My High School Graduation

by Barbara Brabec

PEONIES WILL ALWAYS REMIND ME of my high-school graduation in the spring of 1955 from Buckley-Loda High School, Buckley, Illinois.

I wasn't much of a gardener when Harry and I moved to our home in Naperville, Illinois, so I was delighted to see that there were some peony bushes on our property. Every year since 1989, those old peony bushes have bloomed anew in a glorious pink array that never fails to excite me and bring back a flood of nostalgic memories about my home town, the kids I knew then, and my high school graduation, in which peonies played an important role.

Sometimes my peonies last for their full season, but occasionally they are beaten down by a May thunderstorm or completely squashed by a hail storm. The bushes bud in early May, and they are always in full bloom just before Memorial Day. If a severe storm is predicted after the bushes are in full bloom, you can be sure I'll be out there cutting a huge bouquet to bring into the house. But I no longer make the mistake I first made when cutting a bouquet. Now I first wash the flowers first to flush out the huge black ants that love to roam about in their petals and take over my kitchen if I give them such easy access.

ALTHOUGH THESE BLOOMS don't last long in a pitcher, they give me enormous pleasure, and they always remind me of the old woman in my home town of Buckley whose front yard was loaded with peony bushes of varying colors. They just happened to always be in bloom as the current class was preparing for graduation, and you might say it was this kind lady's misfortune to live directly across the street from the high school.

You see, it was the practice in those days for two or three kids in the graduating class to go around town and find enough fresh flowers to fill two or more large flower baskets that would be placed on the stage. Of course, we had no money to buy flowers from the floral shop in a nearby town, so it was either find flowers for free, or do without. Because peonies were such large and colorful flowers, they were often a main part of each basket. And that dear lady across the street from the high school (I don't remember her name) with the so-obvious display of flowers in her front yard was always the first one to be asked to "donate" flowers for the baskets. And God bless her, she always said yes.

Buckley is a very small town, and the old school where I got both my grade school and high school education has been in ruins for some time. Today, children in Buckley have to be bussed to a neighboring town to get their schooling, and I can't help but wonder if today's seniors from Buckley and other small towns across the country still gather their own flowers to decorate the stage where they stand to receive their diplomas, or if this was just something quaint we used to do in Buckley back in the day.

Either way, I'm glad the flower-gathering job fell to me the year I graduated because it was a joyful experience I've never forgotten, and one that firmly planted peonies in my heart forever.

My Valedictory Speech

I was surprised to find I actually had a picture of one of these peony baskets in my scrapbook. It's old and faded and shot at a crooked angle, but mother was a little excited, after all, because that's me up there behind the basket, giving my first public speech as Valedictorian. I was so nervous I could hardly speak, and I sweat bullets trying to write that speech, never imagining at the time how many other speeches I would ultimately deliver (in much calmer fashion) in my home-business career.

Barbara Brabec in 1955, delivering
her Valedictory speech.

Note that my class had a wonderful motto, one I always tried to live by as I was building a name for myself as a writer:

BUILD FOR CHARACTER, NOT FOR FAME

I must have done that, because for sure I've never been famous, which my husband pointed out to me one day by giving me a gift that tickled my funny bone: a black T-shirt emblazoned with words in white that said "ALMOST FAMOUS."

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