I have a person very close to me who tells amazing stories about his childhood. He has an uncanny knack for details about dates, times, and people that never ceases to amaze me, especially considering he has close to a couple of decades on me. It often makes me wonder about events from my childhood and why I don't have the recall needed to tell a good story. After all, I'm the "writer," not him. But he's the talker, the storyteller, and I'm just the muller-over...or would that be the over-mullerer? But I took a trip down Memory Lane when I visited my elementary alma mater over the weekend, and the stories came rushing back to me, albeit in bits and pieces.
My elementary school, Verona Elementary, is closing at the end of this school year. (I'm at the :25 mark in that video, chatting with my kindergarten teacher.) I'm taking it a little hard, maybe a little harder than most people. Let's face it, I take most things harder than most people, but I'm pretty sure that this one is with good reason. No only did I attend school there, but my mother taught there for forty years. Yes, forty. Holy hell, that's a long time! So it's no wonder that Verona has been such a big part of my life.
My mom and I toured the soon-to-close building on Saturday, along with a small crowd attending the open house commemorating the closing. I got a bumper sticker and a card-stock print of the school, which is pretty nice, but nothing compared to being able to walk the sidewalks and visit the classrooms one more time. Mom made a production (or so I felt) out of introducing me to people I didn't know, and proudly telling them I was a teacher at "the middle school," and talking about how much time I spent in her classrooms through the years. And I got choked up. You see, not only do I have the typical elementary school memories that all kids have, but I have another whole set of memories connected to that school just from being a teacher's kid, and those are just as powerful. Maybe more so.
I met my best friend Angie in kindergarten. I don't remember how we met, just that we did, and that our kindergarten teacher bit her to show her how it felt after she bit another student. I swallowed a dime in kindergarten, too. It hurt like hell. I got mad because I already knew how to read and we were learning the alphabet.
In first grade, I got glasses. I also got sent to second grade for reading class because I was so far above grade level. Unfortunately, I was also a chickenshit, so I think it lasted about five minutes. Can you blame me? I was barely six, and thrust into a classroom full of kids who were probably seven and eight, and they seemed so old! I think my parents split up around this time, too.
In third grade, I read Greek myths and had a boy for a best friend for about ten minutes, but I remember it. My favorite Greek heroine was Atalanta, which maybe explains my tomboy tendencies that year. Jeff McWhorter threw a snowball at me on the playground (we actually went to school when there was snow on the ground in those days) and broke my glasses. He apologized, but I held a grudge and never forgave him. We wrote love notes and asked the boys we liked to write back.
I don't think I liked fourth grade. I remember 4-H and being made to write "I will not talk in class" one hundred times for homework. I remember telling my dad that on the phone, him calling the teacher at home, and me getting out of it. That's embarrassing. I probably deserved it.
Fifth grade was a turning point in lots of ways. My BFF and I weren't in the same class, and we both made new friends. I was jealous of hers, and mine didn't speak any English. I spent fifth grade on a mission to teach Sandy English and trying to learn Chinese. We made each other word books, and I went to visit her family in the motel they owned. I stopped going to "Bible" as we called it, (Weekday Religious Education, for those of you not fortunate enough to have that bit of weirdness in your lives) that year, too, with some newfound conviction that religion didn't have a place in the school day. I caught some hell over that from a lot of people, but I stuck to my guns. I gave handwriting lessons, and I learned that racism was a thing. Our school play was The Jungle Book, in which I was cast as an elephant, which traumatized me a smidge. No cute costume for me, nope. I had to wear baggy grey sweatpants, a baggy grey t-shirt, and a paper grocery bag elephant mask with an accordion trunk over my head. I remember how that grey spray paint smelled--a little like shame. I got in a fight with a girl named Michelle during a practice, and we both got in school suspension and kicked out of the dress rehearsal. It was a strange experience to walk into the cafeteria on Saturday, where choir students were performing, to immediately recognize a song from The Jungle Book, which I performed on that very stage.
I watched General Hospital and Rick Springfield in the afternoons in my mom's classroom(s) while I helped her do teachery-stuff. I put nametags on desks and graded papers. I used the opaque projector to draw large characters for the bulletin boards, then I colored them with Mr. Sketch smelly markers before they got laminated. I changed the monthly calendar and cut out leaves and turkeys to hang up for the dates. I put a staple through my finger trying to reload a stapler. I bought Tab from the teachers' lounge machine...one of those 1970's machines that sold glass bottles that we slid from one side of the machine down metal slots in the drink chest. Truth be known, I learned how to be a teacher during those years, both from my mom and the whole slew of awesome teachers I had through the years, more so than I did in any college course I ever took.
I understand the need to close the school, in a fiscal sense. But I'm fighting an urge to try to buy every piece of memorabilia possible from that building. The tiny pastel chairs in the kindergarten and first grade buildings (which must have been great chairs, because they've lasted all this time). The avocado-green bookcases and rolling coat closets that were in every room. The low-slung counters in the primary grades. Even the bathroom stall doors that we used to lock and climb over so the next person couldn't get to the toilet. The large piece of eternal pipe that we used to play on and hide in from the boys who were chasing us. I can't do that, of course, but I can take the memories with me and smile a little at the fact that my mom remembers things the way I do.
Goodbye, Verona, and thank you.