Thoughtful Thursday: This Used to Be My Playground
July 19, 2012
Mel wrote a delightful post a few days ago about visiting her old elementary school.
Rather than address the memories I’d have of my school in her comment section, I thought I’d talk about some of them here.
I have a very good memory of my childhood. Very, very good. So I could go on for pages and pages with memories of elementary school. Instead, I’ll take you through a virtual tour, starting at the front door (which no one ever, ever used — everyone always went through the parking lot).
There’s the supply closet. Once I was wowed by the sheer number and variety of stickers.
There is the office. I rarely went there except a couple of times when I was punished for talking, and a few times when I was sick and had to lie down, and that one time in 6th grade when I was hit in the head with a dodgeball.
That section of concrete is the “stage” where the school plays were held. There’s the spot where I sat when I was Assistant Director of the play in 8th grade, a job which mostly consisted of holding up signs for the actors to “smile” or “slow down.”
There is the spot where we got our milk every day. Everyone got milk except for one boy who was allergic. I can still see him standing next to the line, waiting while everyone else got milk. He died of a heroin overdose a few years ago.
There’s my second grade classroom. That was the first place I ever felt really smart.
There’s the second and third grade bathroom. No one ever used the first stall. Even if there was a long line, everyone would leave it empty, unless a teacher came in and forced us to use it. There was nothing wrong with it except that it was the first stall.
There’s my third grade classroom. There is the spot outside the classroom where the whole class stood for almost an hour one Monday morning, until the principal came and told us that our teacher had moved away forever and we’d be getting a new teacher in half an hour or so. He told us she moved away, but no one was ever satisfied with the explanation, because it didn’t make sense that she’d leave without saying goodbye or without giving enough time for a replacement to be arranged. The new teacher had been called back from maternity leave. One time her baby spilled milk all over our spelling tests, and she had to iron them. I saw that teacher a couple of years ago; that baby is now a doctor.
There’s the playground, and the huge open field where on a clear day you could see the ocean. There is the volleyball net next to which one of the P.E. teachers gathered the girls in 5th grade and told us that there were tampons and pads in the teachers’ bathroom and we could go any time if we needed to. I had no idea what she was talking about.
There is the bench where we used to spend the entire recess trading jelly bracelets, until they were banned from school. The next year we traded Garbage Pail Kids, until they were banned.
There are the tetherball posts. For a while in second grade I actually got to school early enough to play before school instead of being barely on time or, more commonly, late. Every morning for a few weeks I played tetherball with a kindergarten girl. That was the first, and perhaps last, time that a friendship felt effortless.
There is the spot where I saw my first pair of Air Jordans. I had no idea who that jumping man was.
This is where we lined up after recess. That’s the spot where my 4th grade class lined up. We had assigned spots in line, so we were always next to the same person. The boy in line behind me whispered in my ear that I was a piece of shit, every day for months.
There’s one of the other third grade classrooms. That’s the room where the spelling bee was held. I did not win. The same word knocked out me and 13 of the 19 other contestants.
There’s my fourth grade classroom. One of my classmates once saw the teacher’s drivers license on her desk. We learned that she was 40 years old. She was unmarried, so the fact that she was as old as 40 made us sad.
There’s the art room. I was not good at art.
There’s the music room. I was great at music. If you look through the window you can see the piano that my best friend played in the seventh grade talent show while I sang. Somewhere Out There. We both wore mouse ears.
There’s my fifth grade classroom. One of the best years of my life, no question. She was a great teacher.
Up the stairs. These are the stairs that once smelled horribly like rotten eggs. There was a lot of debate about whether it was a lot of eggs that had gone bad, or a stink bomb, or the world’s worst farts.
There are the classrooms among which we rotated for sixth grade. One of them is the room where we all had our own dictionaries, and we liked to look up naughty words like bitch and damn. That is the same classroom where the chess tournament was held at recess. I lost to a kid who was specifically known as being dumb. I am not good at chess.
There’s the trash can where I accidentally threw away my lunch, thinking that it was the lunch from several days earlier that was rotting and collecting flies in my bookbag. In fact, I threw away the brand new lunch. I had to go to the office for crackers and peanut butter, the only time in my 7 years at the school that I ever needed the makeshift lunch.
In the hall, a few steps from the trash can, is the place where I first heard someone say the word anus. I didn’t know what she was talking about.
There are the seventh grade classrooms. The one at the end is the one where I had pre-algebra. That was the only class at the school that used purple mimeographs. One time the teacher asked me to get some worksheets from the supply closet. There were thousands, maybe millions, of mimeographed worksheets. I bet the kids today are still working through those giant stacks. And I bet it still smells exactly the same.
There is the bathroom where I got my first period in sixth grade. I thought I’d pooped my pants.
Down the stairs. No one ever used these stairs except for the aforementioned rotten egg day.
There are the eighth grade classrooms. That’s the English classroom where we recited lines from Julius Caesar from memory, all together. “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things, o you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome. Knew you not Pompey?”
There’s the part of the parking lot where we had ballroom dancing lessons. Four years of weekly ballroom dancing lessons. I was one of the only kids at school who didn’t take additional ballroom lessons after school at cotillion class. My afternoons were otherwise spoken for, with some combination of three other types of dancing and/or two other sports and/or two types of music lessons, depending on the year.
There is the lawn where junior high kids ate lunch, unlike the elementary kids who ate in their classrooms. That is the table where my best friend told everyone that I liked Kevin while I watched, helpless, open-mouthed. As if there was anyone who didn’t already know that I liked Kevin. I was still mortified.
There is the site of all of our assemblies and pageants and shows. For a school so academically focused, we sure did a lot of singing and dancing in addition to all of our poetry recitation and speeches.
There’s the spot where the school hosted a class reunion, one year after graduation. I was shocked to see that they had added a recycling bin — after only a year, things had already started to change. That was the last time I visited the school, 22 years ago.
What highlights would we see if you took us on a tour of your elementary school?