Iced oatmeal, brand-X vanilla crème sandwich, and very small, very round, very hard sugar cookies-this fare along with gallons and gallons of Kroger lemonade set the stage for a celebration at Greater Atlanta Christian each December of my last ten years.
At the yearly Festival of Cheap Cookies, entertainment consisted of a video primarily written, produced, and directed by Balloon Calves Productions featuring timeless characters like The Finch, Spartan Boy, GAC Man, and the Men’s Drill Team. Along with actions films, dramas occasionally emblazoned the festival screen. Dramas like the David and Angie Fann wedding drama.
Matt Elliott, Mr. Balloon Calves himself, part chaplain and part comic, extraordinary at both, launched the careers of a diversity of dancers and actors including Christopher Dowdy, Aaron Paul, Jared Thomas, Wade Roberts, Jimmy Chupp, Dana Davis, David Fincher, and Donna Strickland.
In between exams, for a short forty minutes, the GAC senior high gathered for bad cookies, weak lemonade, and riotous laughter.
Other traditions at GAC exuded more dignity, but the Festival of Cheap Cookies possessed a certain store-bought baked goods charm that I am missing right now.
Actually I miss a great deal about GAC. Not because there is anything wrong with Memphis Harding Academy, but because I feel like I never really got to say good-bye to my friends and to the students I love so much.
The other day I was in an assembly at church or school singing a song Matt taught us our first year at GAC. I felt myself a little short of breath. Not the short of breath one experiences from exercise, but more like the what I think folks may experience in a panic attack.
One moment I was in GAC chapel singing “Day by Day” while Chris, Afro and all, sang with the freshman a few rows back. A fifth grader, Trevor, just yards away, was singing praises too while wading through Alpha-psi-whatever and collecting pogs.
In dream-like time ten years passed. Now Chris, 24, and Trevor, turning 21, make their life music miles away and I too have left GAC.
The years in that moment enrich my life with memories of teaching politics, history, and high school psychology in a double wide trailer with Dr. Alan Henderson in the room next door leading minds to ponder Jeus and world religions.
Recollections of praise songs, debate trips, Rock for___ Concerts, presidential elections, Dana Davis Eagle conferences, faculty singing, construction projects, trips to the Czech Republic, senior trips to Orlando, valedictory speeches, and graduation ceremonies rush through my consciousness.
I cry when I remember saying goodbye to Doc Love.
I cry when I remember the class of ’99 and the loss of Melissa Davis.
I sense the sweetness of victories and the sting of disappointments and failures that dot the landscape of those years.
I embrace the precious moments in which I worked at GAC alongside my sister Kim and her husband Ted with all of our children here together. Sometimes my mom, JoJo answered the phones and we enjoyed what I think are God greatest blessings-family, community, meaningful work, and spiritual passion.
In those days, I would have worked at GAC for free. Every day was a delight.
I see Atlanta from Stone Mountain and relive the senior class devotional we shared the same week Lincoln Hamilton was baptized. I can almost feel the cold water in the Gulf of Mexico, a lake in Covington, Georgia, and a swimming pool in Birmingham, as I recall the baptisms of dozens of GAC students.
I hear Trevor telling me, "The guys in 8th grade guys are really happy I am going out for spring football. Mom, they are as excited as when I was baptized."
I count ways Matt Elliott, Clif Jones, Brad Kinser, Uncle Ted Thames and others inspired, loved, and encouraged my boys, but time constrains me.
My friends' faces appear in frames. I imagine them animated like the HP printer ads and wish they were here with me.
I recount the gifts from the faculty Christmas luncheons, although admit I still startle when the little reading lamp from last year starts to open.
I take some pleasure that in all that transpired, I escaped without ever receiving a gift from Brad Kinser and Thom Jacquet at Christmas.
I thank God for grace shown to me by this dynamic community of believers, full of lovers of God and doers of his Word.
I cherish the committment to quality education in a Christian environment.
I smile when I think of Matt Elliott and Balloon Calves Production moving to Buford, going from 0 to 3 in a few short years. But what a legacy, Matt--The Festival of Cheap Cookies.
So, today, in honor of a grand tradition, I eat iced oatmeals here in Memphis as I run off my final exams and raise a plastic cup of weak lemonade to my friends at GAC.