Goodbye to the Primary School

A big excavator knocked down the years vacant Primary School yesterday in all that rainy wind. The building wasn't much, and should have been torn down long ago. I do remember a few heavy snowfalls that made the flat roof sag. The small, brown painted plywood school was built as temporary classrooms during the timber heyday, and used for the next thirty years for Kindergarten, first and second graders, and I think, for a few years, third graders, was greater than the sum of its lowly parts. It was not the kind of schoolhouse you would want a picture of on the wall, or even the fridge. But I have a lot of pictures of what happened there in my mind—albums full. All five of my children walked in that little red and brown doorway on their first day of school. I still remember Eliza’s first day, what, 22 years ago? Becky was there with Corrie, the youngest of her six, and she did a little heel kick and raised her hands in the air walking away. Anne Marie held on to her oldest, crying little Penny, in the doorway and decided that one more year at home would be fine with both of them. (She was young, a September baby, so not yet five.)  I remember the rabbit in Mrs. Morden’s room, the one who used a litter box, and hopped down the hall when the door was left ajar; the “Be Ye Kind” poster on Mrs. Edwards wall (she was, always.) I remember Mr. Guliford; he was the janitor, a big man who was hard of hearing, greeting the littlest children everyday at the door.  I used to curse the months, it seemed, of volunteer preparation time for that Thanksgiving feast in the low ceiling multi-purpose room, a musty cave of a place for rainy day play, transformed into a banquet hall with construction paper turkeys and pumpkins and “woven” paper place mats. Folding those white pilgrim hats for the girls and cutting the fringed paper vests for the little boys, who all wanted to be Indians, challenged my un-crafty ways. The mothers and teachers cooked turkey and fixings for the whole school.  I remember Charlie Jimmie in his Tlingit Regalia, nose ring and all, saying a Tlingit prayer over the gathering, and repeating it in English, and wondering if it was okay to pray in Jesus’ name at school, but then thinking, just as quickly, I guess so, because it was a living history lesson, since the pilgrims (and their fellow Europeans) were the ones who converted Charlie’s ancestors. There were no real Native Americans at any of my childhood Thanksgiving feasts back east.  Mainly, I remember the children singing with a patient, amused, teacher leading them. My daughter Sarah, now grown, has been pulling copper pipes out of the school walls to recycle and sell to raise money for a rec center. She’s glad her daughter will have a new school to go to and hopes we'll all have a fun place to play on rainy days like this one, someday soon. Sarah won't miss the daddy long legs spiders, and an iguana that may or may not have been dead, it was so still in the cage. She said she can't think of that old school without thinking of “Teacher Sandy.” The good news is that Sandy is still in Kindergarten,  teaching over at the new school, which doesn’t have spiders (it is bright and sunny) or rabbits (not allowed due to allergies and bites and all kinds of terrible things that anyone who has seen a Monty Python movie knows rogue rabbits are capable of.)  But most of the good things about a school still happen in that new building, and it makes me think that schools are like churches that way—they are not about the building, rather the people who gather in them.

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