In late afternoons when the sun drops in the sky giving trees and lawns a golden glow, I forget my problems and cares, and for a blissful while, all is right with the world.

Distant memories of being freed from the constraints of school schedules, spending temperate evenings outdoors with friends and current memories of delivering my sons to football and baseball practices, wholesome community activity during this time of day, reinforce the feeling that all is well.

Recently, during that glorious time of the afternoon, my sons and I were traveling north on Williams Street, one of the most charming in our city, canopied with oaks on the south end and lined all the way with houses exuding character and yards exhibiting mature Southern landscaping.

We stopped at a longtime community gathering place, Cleveland Field. I parked the old Lincoln, which my oldest son's peers teasingly refer to as the "pimpmobile," and he carried his bag with No. 68 screenprinted on it straight to the locker room.

My youngest and I sat in the stands for a little while, awaiting the beginning of a spring practice and killing some time before he had to get ready for his first Spring Fling dance at Valdosta Middle School.

I felt completely at home at the stadium. Tradition and loyalty lend a sense of belonging at Cleveland Field.

Three generations of my family graduated from Valdosta High. I watched my older siblings march over to the 50-yard line to receive their diplomas wishing it was me that was all grown up, but eventually I got to march on Cleveland Field at halftime on Friday nights playing a clarinet or hoisting the American flag.

Now my oldest son, carrying on a tradition in our family started in the 1940s by my late uncle, Ralph Allen, rams full force into defensive linemen of opposing teams who dare to challenge the Wildcats.

I met Coach Rick Darlington the fifth afternoon of spring practice, finding him to be genial and much taller than he looks on television or in newspaper photographs.

I also met Coach Brian Davis, and thanked him for cleaning the blood off the back of my son's head a couple of weeks ago after he fell backward in the weight room. Neither of us could figure out why a boy in honors classes would sit on a squat bar that spins. We shared a laugh, and he said, "You're welcome," adding it was all in a day's work.

My husband and I tag-teamed in showing support for our children that day. When he got off work, he came to Cleveland Field in time for me to take our youngest home to get ready for the dance.

My "baby" decided to wear the third shirt I ironed, and we traveled up Patterson Street, almost as charming as Williams, to VMS. I dropped him off with his ID card, $5 admission, and instructions to honor the Lord, himself, his parents, and his school with good behavior.

My son was relieved his friends were waiting for him as promised, leaning against the red brick at the front of the newly constructed school. I felt as if I belonged there, too, only the part I belong to is presently being torn down.

I returned to Cleveland Field and thanked the Lord after every play in which my oldest son wasn't injured, and had short, pleasant conversations with Coach Jerry Don Baker, his wife Polly, Daneisha Bell, who is well-versed on her ma'ams and sirs, Moses Williams and Anthony Courson, a loyal Wildcat fan who filmed the practice and has filmed games more than 20 years.

Zipping back to Valdosta Middle after the dance, Officer Steve Findlay kept pick-up traffic running smoothly, and I parked an appropriate distance away from the exit so as not to embarrass my youngest.

Assistant Principal Marcia Collins graciously directed him to the outer parking lot where I was asking Rick and Resa Harris if they remembered what it was like to be a couple before the era of spending evenings chauffeuring children, the same question I'd posed to my husband at Cleveland Field earlier.

Principal Roesch came out to the parking lot, greeted the parents, and said he was well pleased with the good behavior of the kids during the dance. My son only got in three fights, he said, in jest of course. In ironic timing -- after a school function in which a romance might begin -- Mr. Roesch wisely advised him to postpone relationships with girls as long as possible.

Although it was now dark, I drove home with the same wonderful feeling I have on late, sunny afternoons. I realized the good feeling, buoyed by being on old stomping grounds and having contact with folks I've known a long time, folks I've known a short time, and folks I'd just met, is a sense of community, and was reassured that Valdosta is a good place to raise kids and a great place to call home.

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