Thoughtful Thursday: This Used to Be My Playground

July 19, 2012

Thoughtful ThursdayMel 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?

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14 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: This Used to Be My Playground”


  1. The central part of the hallway, where we would have makeshift assemblies and my sister once fainted (too many kids packed together) and a boy crashed through the window (don’t remember what happened exactly).
    My 7th grade classroom with the piano that had at least three layers of paint on it. The last coat was a kind of sea green – it belonged to our teacher who was part of a gospel choir (he came from an evangelical background) and taught us all these songs with sometimes quite hilarious texts that of course you were not supposed to laugh at, but then I found out that my grandpa sang the same song with his men’s choir and then we had a good laugh about it together.
    The right part of the blackboard in my 8th grade classroom – we had the headmaster then as teacher, a pretty horrible and old-fashioned man. He taught us to parse a sentence on that part of the blackboard, in a bit of a military drill way, but hey, I DID learn how to parse a sentence…


  2. Oh, and thanks for the tour of your school! Very entertaining.

  3. St. Elsewhere Says:

    What a beautiful post…it is like you held my hand and showed me around…

    School wasn’t such a happy place for me…I liked it in bits and parts and the sole cause for my dislike was the fact that I never handled homework well, which has repercussions of its own. But it had its brilliant spots.

    There was this giant banyan tree in the primary section. I remember hanging on its aerial roots…spending almost an entire recess running and playing around it. I was fascinated with it.

    I remember sitting on the steps of our assembly with my mother’s face buried in her hands. How could someone fail Painting, she wanted to know. I did not do a good job, I did not submit my canvas. I failed it. Probably the only one ever in the primary section to have done so.

    I remember Library so well – in all sections of the school. It was one period I really loved. It was there that I was picked up for a group song. I could sing? I was surprised by the discovery.

    I would take you to the assembly.

    I would take you to the classes where I used to stay out because I was found talking, or I had not done my homework. I would be given some punishment such that I was asked to write a certain line of apology over and over again for 200 times or 300 times. I would sit outside the class the whole day, slowly getting on with the writing. (I was a slow writer, and I was in no hurry to go back in.)

    I would take you to our canteen – which at that point of time, was filled with magical lipsmacking goodies which are now not so magical for me.

    I would take you to our labs, and especially the chemistry lab which was fun. I enjoyed my time in the lab – especially experiments about carbon-containing compounds.

    Then there were the run-ups to and actual annual-day events in which I participated – mostly dramas.

    That I could write poetry was discovered when I went to a competition just to bunk the PT class.

    There was a well in the school, and I especially loved the coolness around it on hot days.

    Then our auditorium, and my first-ever extempore competition. I incidentally was called first to speak. I got my word, and my mind went blank. I stood mum for about a minute after introducing myself to the audience. Then I quietly turned my back and went to my seat. I couldn’t mutter one thing on the subject. I never knew a minute could be so long. I remember not feeling one thing, not finding anything to say, and just sweeping my eyes over the audience waiting for my words to rain through.

    And oh, I would take you to the classroom from whose window I had jumped (it was a ground floor classroom) out because my mum had been called (yet again) because of my poor performance in some exam, and I knew that if they found me in class, I would be called by the teacher too. So I saw her entering the building, and I made my escape.

  4. St. Elsewhere Says:

    I forgot to take you to meet my favourite teacher ever. She taught us English. She is the one who actually taught me that there are people who still appreciate honesty. She was also the one I went to meet after Lol@ died.

    I have never gone back to school after I passed out from there. I was relieved to be out of it.

  5. strongblonde Says:

    i LOVE this post. what fun to read through! you triggered so many memories for me as well! I attended two elementary schools.

    The first: a run down building that was predominantly spanish-speaking. The gym was totally awesome, though, and we used to go to skate parties there on the weekend (ALL SKATE!). The playground only had a set of swings and a merry-go-round, so we would end up cruising around the parking lot….its a surprise that we didn’t get into more trouble. I was only there from K-2nd grade and the highlights were the cookies we got on our belly during naptime during K, my 1st grade teacher (who later died of breast cancer) who had a proclaimed love for mickey mouse and had mickey curtians in the classroom, and my morbidly obease 2nd grade teacher who gave me an award for best penminship (it was a whole dollar-I thought that was the coolest!).

    After second grade I switched to the “gifted” program at another school. It was an awesome building, which I chose based on it’s pretty building. the playground had rocks, the atrium had big beautiful blue stairs, and there was a chinese dragon hanging from the ceiling in the foyer. it was awesome. the classrooms were open. minimal walls, no doors. we had bay/angular windows were we could sing on pollywogs and read. i loved it. but it was in the worst neighborhood in my town. my town that was the murder capital of the country. that part was a little scary.


  6. Thank you for showing me around. You are an amusing tour guide 🙂

    You would see the FourSquare grid where, in 5th grade, Cathy and Jamie took a poll to see how many people hated me. It was a high number.

    And a step up. I had been under the impression that I had been slipping under everyone’s radar.

  7. a Says:

    Grade school was interesting for me. 2 older sisters that were great and 1 older sister that was awful. There was 1 year when we all went to the school.

    I remember my 2nd grade teacher sending me to take a note to the 7th grade teacher…who would then exclaim “Oh, it’s a little Lastname!” and pinch my cheeks. I also used to win long division races at the chalkboard – the prize was marshmallows.

    My school was a typical Chicago public school – they all have the same air. Now, because the classes have outgrown the building, they have trailers in what used to be a baseball field. The worst part of the whole thing was that there was a park with a playground next to the school…but since it wasn’t part of the school, but part of the park district, it wasn’t covered under their insurance and we couldn’t go there during recess. We had a nice open field with a track, where we would play bullrush.

    Like St. Elsewhere, I loved the library. I was an advanced reader, and I was the first to graduate from the kiddy picture books to the chapter books…and the first who had to find a book using the Dewey Decimal system. When I got to my later years, I was a library assistant and would get to stamp the books for the librarian.

    The second floor was the 4th through 8th grades – the 5th grade teacher could be made to cry with frustration. And she embarassed me by making me the standard for speed on spelling tests. I was mortified when the 6th grade teacher drove up to our house in her big yellow Cadillac to talk to my parents about my sister.

    The 7th grade teacher had a stack of rulers banded together, which he used for discipline (damn, I’m old!). The 8th grade teacher loved me and let me get away with way too much.

    I haven’t been back into the school in a long time, but I would bet it hasn’t changed much. Lots of good memories there….

  8. Mel Says:

    You are a fabulous tour guide 🙂

  9. Elana Kahn Says:

    Oh gosh, like I remember. lol I would take you to see my old teachers, if they’re still there… I particularly remember the music teachers (Mrs Guth and Mr Orgar) who probably still work there. There’s also a fantastic playground that you could see. Other than that I really don’t remember much…


  10. I tried to do this assignment and my brain kind of shut down on it. I really don’t have fond memories of elementary. It’s like, “This is where so-and-so called me ugly,” “This is where I found out I wasn’t invited to so-and-so’s party.” It goes on and on. But it makes me really grateful for college and all the places after, which I’ll always remember with fondness. The other day a friend and I were talking about our first solo apartments and how much we now appreciate that space. The fact that Carrie kept her old apartment is the single thing I like about SEX AND THE CITY 2.

  11. Ana Says:

    I feel the same as Ernessa. I can’t really do it. Not the happiest of times. The only one who looked like me in the school, told I had cooties the first day. Threw up once in this hallway…had someone I thought was “friend” tell me how everyone hated me in this girls’ bathroom. Humiliation during volleyball & dodge ball on this field, and rainy day square dancing in this auditorium. Being one of few bringing my own lunch in the cafeteria because I didn’t eat meat, which was remarkable & more cause for teasing, at the time. Sticky stinky AC-less trailers in hot southern Mays & Septembers. Every year I was so excited, with my new clothes & shiny supplies. And every year, the same disappointments. Things got better, much better in high school. When I came out of my shell and found a crew of similar kids.

  12. Sara Says:

    Back from holiday, catching up on blogs!

    I was home schooled K-12, so my memories of elementary school differ from most people’s! There was a corner of the family room set aside for bookshelves and desks, and I remember sitting there in arms reach of the pickle jar that housed my pet slug, Slurpy C. Slug. (He didn’t last much beyond the summer…but the end of celery that I put in his jar to feed him once sprouted roots and started to grow!). I remember the morning we came down to find that the white board which had had the beginning paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence on it had been altered to say “life, liberty, and the pursuit of Star Trek and pizza”, and though he never fessed up to it, it was definitely in the handwriting of my dad.

    I remember that one of the make-believe games my older sister and I liked to play was “college”; we’d each have a dorm room (with our own phone!), we had made-up names (I was “Crystal Crayola”, engaged to “Jim Waterfalls”), cars, and our “homework” consisted of things like copying articles from the encyclopedia and alphabetizing numbers.

    I remember “home ec”, which was baking cookies in the kitchen with mom. And of course, lots and lots of trips to the library.

  13. Stinky Says:

    here from Friday round up – I loved this post and its inspired me to rake through my own memory to see what I can remember from my own primary (UK) school. Have always maintained I remember very little and my mum was actually asking me what I could remember about 2 weeks ago . . . there’s more than I figured, but need more time to draft and ruminate than answer here. Just wanted to acknowledge your memories in this post impacting on me

  14. Cat Says:

    My elementary school was the newest in our town, built with some newfangled ideas of what was conducive to learning. It was a square, one story building with glass doors in the middle of each side but no windows. It was the only elem school in town with air conditioning, so we didn’t get to wear shorts. I also spent a lot of time on the tetherball court but didn’t often play four-square. The kids who played four-square played it every day and were much, much better than me.

    I remember playing field hockey outside during gym class one day and hitting a cute classmate right in the face with my stick. In the same field in winter, kids would start to make snowmen with each new snowfall but they’d make the bottom ball so big they couldn’t possibly lift another snowball of appropriate size on top of it, so they’d just play King of the Mountain instead.

    I remember couples pairing up and “getting married” on the sidewalk in the playground every day at lunch in first grade. I remember getting a sliver in my finger tip that was as long as my finger tip was wide from sliding across the bridge of the wooden playground equipment. We’d also claim the bottom steps of that setup and pretend they were each our own room.

    I also remember moving away in the middle of sixth grade and then losing touch with my best friends. I still can’t find them and I wish I could.


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