July heats up with memories of the Olympics
by Juanita Hughes
July 16, 2013 11:22 PM | 847 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Juanita Hughes
Juanita Hughes
In an air-conditioned bus on Gettysburg’s battlefield and cemetery just three days before the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle there, it was impossible to imagine the hardships and devastation being described by our guide.

But one statement he made hit home. Although the matter at hand was the battle, the fight itself, it had to be fought and endured by men who were in wool uniforms — in July. I could not relate to the fighting and bloodshed, but the wool uniform in July was something that, 17 years ago this week, I experienced.

The memories are beginning to fade, but my collection of Olympic memorabilia gives me a quick step back in time. The July calendars for this year and 1996 are the same, and as I write this on Monday, July 15, I can recall that it was also Monday, July 15, that my fellow field marshals and I made our way back to the new Atlanta Stadium for the dress rehearsal and final run-through and taping of the Opening Ceremonies of the 1996 Summer Olympics, scheduled for July 19. (I still have my run-through pass.)

We had been to numerous training and practice sessions already, beginning in April when we were “numbered” (I was No. 448), but we wore summer-appropriate clothing on those days.

Our official uniform consisted of a teal wool blazer, a white shirt embossed with the familiar leaf motif, a nylon scarf, a gored skirt made of 55 percent polyester and 45 percent wool which fell mid-calf, knee-high hose and black, ugly Rockport loafers… in July, in Georgia.

We would wear this outfit three times — at the dress rehearsal, Opening Ceremonies, and Closing Ceremonies. The heat was a given, but, all things considered, it could have been worse.

The sun had set before we went on the field, and occasionally a breeze would stir over the field and through the stands. Our minds were on what was going on around us: the music, the pageantry, the athletes, the celebrities, not our comfort. There was adrenaline aplenty and we were making memories minute-by-minute.

We would do it all again Aug. 4 for Closing Ceremonies, but with a different mind-set. That day began earlier for the field marshals.

We showed up at high noon and were given bright yellow T-shirts with “Y’ALL COME BACK” in bold black letters, plus an ID wrist band labeled “Closing Ceremony Cast, Break a Leg.”

Our uniforms were in storage until time to dress for the closing event, and the afternoon was spent performing our assigned duty of placing ditty bags in every seat in the stadium.

After we were fed and watered, we donned the woolens again and made a few more memories up close and personal with celebrity performers and hundreds of Olympic athletics.

I know there are those (fellow columnist Dick Yarbrough included) who have some negative thoughts about the Atlanta Olympics, and I know that there’s a lot I don’t know about, all that happened behind the scenes.

But my own little world was brightened and enhanced by those 16 days. I loved all the activity surrounding every aspect … Centennial Park and the bricks, the quilt exhibit, the pins, even the T-shirts, beginning, for me, with one issued the night the announcement was made that Atlanta had been chosen as the host city.

I treasure my memories of the sights and sounds — Celine Dion, Gloria Estefan, the Atlanta Symphony and Chorus, and that special little girl who sang solo for thousands in the stadium and millions around the world, the dancing groups and the Chevy trucks and the bands, and those precious little children in their white outfits. And that’s just the beginning and the end.

The Games occurred in between, and the days and nights were filled with inspiring victories and defeats. There are literally thousands of other Georgians who participated in one way or another in the planning and production of the events of that summer, and each one has a story to tell.

I think for the rest of my days when I hear “Georgia on my Mind,” I’ll be able to close my eyes and see Gladys Knight’s stage rising up from Georgia soil, and the sky filled with lightning bugs.

And when the moon is a crescent, I’ll always remember those moments just before we walked onto the field and a crescent moon was perched between two stadium sections in the west, a perfect backdrop for a perfect, magic, Atlanta night, woolens and all.

Next year’s July battle will be in Atlanta. Keep the mothballs handy.

Juanita Hughes is Woodstock’s official historian and former director of the Woodstock Public Library.
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