A poem lamenting the passage of time, the loss of friends and changes to a community has become a clarion call, a horn sounded from on high, if you will, less as a warning and more an invitation to gather, to remember and to celebrate.
The sound carrying through the early December air also serves as a summons to future generations who may not remember the old drug store, the pool hall that became a shoe store or the man at the hardware store who can only speak high school football.
The James Dickey poem, “Looking for the Buckhead Boys,” will be read at the former North Fulton High School Dec. 2 at about 5 p.m. All who hear the call — and if you reading this, you have — are encouraged to remember the past, be present and cultivate the future of “old” Buckhead.
Each December for 50 years now, the “Buckhead boys” have gathered for an annual jubilee. A member reads the poem, libations and The Varsity chili dogs follow. A donation of $40 is requested, with all proceeds going to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
The annual event started in the 1960s with a Christmastime lunch made up of friends from North Fulton High. Later it became a buffet. As it grew to a list of more than 800 names, it became an open bar and an informal dinner. For the three decades, the old stomping grounds of North Fulton High welcomed them.
But the question must be asked, “What in the heck is a ‘Buckhead boy,’ anyway?”
To Tom Body, a graduate of North Fulton High, it’s anyone who grew up in Buckhead.
Specifically, though, in former U.S. Poet Laureate James Dickey’s 1969 poem, it is those friends and compatriots of an older man who has returned home after many years. He refers to North Fulton High and the year 1939.
In the poem, a man laments how Buckhead has changed. His childhood home has been torn down. The Wender & Roberts Pharmacy is now covered in chrome and has women selling cosmetics. He goes to the old pool hall only to find it is now a shoe store.
At the hardware store, he learns that a few friends have died, one is in jail, but still, he searches, because he knows if he can find just one “Buckhead boy,” “then he is home.”
He finally finds a familiar face working as an attendant at the Gulf gas station on the way to Sandy Springs. Then, and only then, is his soul restored, his youth walking inside of him “like a king.”
‘Tis the people that make the place, after all.
There are no credentials necessary to be a Buckhead boy; no diploma from a specific high school for a specific year, no feat performed on the athletic field. It is only that youth was spent navigating the neighborhoods and places that make up the north Atlanta community.
The group is founded on nostalgia for days gone by, but years ago, members realized in their midst were several men that had not only achieved a level of professional success but were supporting their community in a meaningful way.
So in 1972, they honored James Dickey, the poet and yes, author of “Deliverance,” as the first Buckhead Boy of the Year. Every year since, a volunteer committee has bestowed the honor on people ranging from artist Jack Davis to former NFL coach Sam Wyche to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. This year, Dr. Keller Carlock and Hunt Archbold will be honored.
The Buckhead boys grew up long ago, but they are still in their hearts young boys who enjoy swapping stories of days gone by, from the exploits on the athletic field to the late nights in the pool hall.
Some have even become leaders recognized well outside of the community in which they grew up, but that doesn’t matter.
When they all gather in one place, wherever that place may be, it is more Buckhead than anywhere else.
For more information on the Buckhead Boys, call 404-841-3840 or visit bit.ly/35mpTQv.