John Winters Column

Find the time

by John Winters

It is said one never realizes what they have until they lose it.

That realization can haunt one forever. Yet every now and then, grace shows up. Sometimes, you get another chance.  

I am lucky. Yet it has taken me more than 30 years. I had excuses — too far away, in the middle of a major project or new book coming out. Always something. The something was the wrong answer. And so I made amends.

There were — and still are — sixteen of us. The fact we are all still alive after 32 years beats statistical averages. Yet we are not immune from those statistics. There are a few divorces, a remarriage or two. No one cares. We are human. The wives, the second wives, the new girlfriends, all are welcome in this circle.

It is but a small part of why I have always loved these guys. No one cared who you were those decades ago; none care who you are now. Just that you are you, and you are here. You are part of the Brotherhood.

The Phi Delts of Washington and Lee’s Class of ‘85 are together again. And that is all that matters. Two are missing. One is helping his wife with recent battles against cancer. The second sent a photo from a beach in another country, celebrating his 25th anniversary with his wife. Both excused. Both missed.

Thirty-two years ago we pledged a fraternity. Some of us knew a fellow pledge or two from high school. Others of us were in the dark. Yet we bonded together through the hells of being a pledge. Try drinking a yard of beer within a time limit and still stand. 

Eating peanut butter out of the armpit of another human other than your wife, passing a single egg without breaking the yolk mouth to mouth creates, I don’t know, some weird bond. 

And so we bonded and did stupid things only a bunch of 18-year-olds can come up with. Our decision to revolt and kidnap our “pledge trainers,” strip them, cover them with molasses and feathers and tie them to a tree in front of one of the area’s women’s colleges is such an example. We paid for that. Our pledge masters probably had a better night. 

Traditions were started with our class. The Nude Phi, where some crazy pledges decided to run down the stairs stark naked after being granted entrance to our sacred fraternity, is one. I will never reveal those names and honestly, only heard about it after the fact. Swear. And there was the dictionary written on the bathroom walls ...

It was hard. What were 16 guys attending an all-male school supposed to do surrounded by five women’s colleges? 

And so we gathered these many years later. A weekend in New Orleans, eating at two of the best restaurants in town. We had our own private room at each, just the guys and the ladies. And the stories were told, and retold. 

To the Little Black Dress’s credit, she only raised her eyebrows once or twice. I was always honest about my past to her, but hearing it from another’s perspective is always quite enlightening. The stories had new elements as well, stories on a myriad of kids. Our legacy. Photos were shared, check-ins with children made by text. Truly a new age. 

The first night the Oracle recited “I Am The Nation,” as he did many years ago at our spaghetti dinners. We are not sure how that really started, but he found some poster with the words and it just became a tradition. We have a lot of those traditions. Cherished ones. The next day the ladies, all in festive hats, went to lunch on their own. The male species of us hit an oyster bar and more stories were retold.

The second night Oracle gave the invocation. He said what needed to be said. He thanked God we are here. We are alive. To remember what we had. To remember what we have. He spoke for all of us, as he always does. 

It was an incredible weekend. One so remarkable that, at times, it felt we just woke up and it was yet another day at the fraternity house. Yet we were older; most were finally getting a hairline to match mine of decades ago. There were the offspring back at home.

It is rare to have such friends. It is an honor to call them that. Too often we let what we have slip away. Don’t be that fool. Make the call. Find the time. Live life as if today is it. It may be. 

And so to my fellow brethren, I end with the famous quote of The Fat Poet, “I was still ...” The rest remains to them.

To Bill, Darby, Dan, Marshall, Matt, Tom, Cole, Charlie, Clayton, Reynolds, Billy, Charlie, Lee, Peter and Gil:



(John A. Winters is general manager of The Newnan Times-Herald. Follow the adventures at . You can reach him at )

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