Thursday, December 13, 2012

"A Hard Candy Christmas"

I'm not by nature a country music fan. Most any style of music is fine as long as it has a melody and harmony. But I must admit I have always admired Dolly Parton. Even before I knew what she sang I appreciated a small woman with a big heart, and the tribute she always gives to the place she came from - the mountains of Tennessee. Today I appreciate it even more, as this morning a piece of my childhood, my elementary school, burned to the ground.

It was a grand old building that had fallen on hard times. Built long before I arrived in the late 1960's, it had been used as a training facility by the police for a while.  Closed and vacant for more than five years, it became a dumping ground for appliances and furniture and anything else no dump would allow. Several years ago some alumni went into the building to document the decay and damage inflicted by both time and men. Everyone agreed it would be the last time. It was too painful.

This was the front entrance. In my mind I can still see the line of yellow buses standing in the steaming afternoon sun, windows down, all waiting in anticipation of the children, loud and gleeful, pouring out the door and down the stairs. I still see the cars waiting for their riders, and the safety patrol with their orange straps directing the chaos. I watch the walkers heading in groups of three and four, vanishing into the pine wood between the school and the subdivisions where most of us lived.

Here is the front office, where the secretary checked us in and out of school, allowed us to call home when we forgot something, or let us do the daily announcements. I still see the desks and counters, see the curtains fluttering as the principal comes from her office or the infirmary calling parents for checkouts. Still remember when the most difficult decisions were which team would pick you for dodge ball.

Closing my eyes I can see my first grade teacher standing at that blackboard, trying with all her patience to make seventeen 5 and 6 year old children be quiet when the sun was shining and the playground was calling our names.  Where the punishment for excessive talking was to write reams and reams of pages about "I must learn not to talk in school" which I must admit to her credit I did finally learn. I can feel the excitement and joy of reading groups, of knowing that in books I found a place where I could fit in, no matter how alone I felt.
All good things come to an end, no matter how hard we try to help time stand still. But we close our eyes, and the pictures come back, the laughter on the playgrounds and the hum of fans buzzing in un-air conditioned rooms, where the feel of chalk dust on our fingers mixed with the smell of old hardwood floors polished to a gleam in a building that was already old when we were young, and we know the truth about memories. The heart remembers, especially when you still have those friends whose bonds of friendship were forged in a time and place that even today we remember with smiles and laughs. And as we smile, the embers of our building grow cold, and our heart beats hot for the grandeur that was once our elementary school.
Good bye Eastern Elementary. Once an Eagle, always an Eagle. We will always remember those we met here.

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