I listen to the pneumatic whoosh as the doors clanged shut with a satisfying echo. The sound has always brought joy - today it signals something entirely different, something final - painful - perhaps fatal.
For decades those doors have provided welcome - not today.
“Old school,” that’s how they describe me. Perhaps I am a bit old fashion but I have been the catalyst for dreams and a showplace for accomplishments. Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have walked these halls fearing what might be behind any given door.
Decades of creativity, pop quizzes, games, songs, reading, basketball and food lines. My caretaker for the past twenty years provided such tender attention to detail; varnished wood polished to a high sheen, floors waxed to a mirror finish, carpets as clean as they can be under the circumstances and bathrooms in constant need of his ministrations.
Today doors will open to a new building; one devoid of boiler and high-gloss varnished doors - one missing the foldout tables and drama stage.
I am no longer able to compete for a place in the hearts of these children. They noticed the cracks and the flaws, they complained about the creaky floors and the drinking fountain that seems either a trickle or a gush with little middle ground. The staff who remember none of my former glory agreed, parents complained, the board acted and I was condemned.
But there is character within these walls. Doctors, scientists, actors, farmers, teachers, senators and electricians - they’ve all walked these halls as youngsters. A fellowship was fostered here. There have been so many that began their quest for knowledge in the comfort of my womb.
I could still do the job, I know I could. A new coat of paint, a little care, a bit of a facelift and a lot of faith - I could do it, just once more.
I’m at a loss to explain it, but I feel a twinge of melancholy. Oh, it’s not just the loss of my usefulness, but I had hoped that I might come full circle. There has always been hope alive within my bosom. When I was young there were prayers within my walls, there was a Bible in most classrooms. Students seemed to abide by the unwritten yet enforceable laws of good conduct. Now? No one is wrong, everyone is right. Weapons are confiscated and a variety of illegal substances rest in book bags and pockets.
My counterpart across town is complete with resident security and metal detectors. Teachers are trained in crisis intervention. Children come to school hungry and are dropped of by those that are neither father nor mother. Counselors have become therapists. Children seem less childlike than I remember.
Oh, but mine truly has been a wondrous life - my memories will shine radiantly long after dust settles deep within. I can not help but be concerned about the cross-town rival - certainly the future will present challenges unheard of in these walls. Perhaps my memory of the past will be the memory of those that drive by and lament the passing of an era.
I watch as mini-vans and SUV’s drive slowly by, occupants gazing sadly at the cracked windows and foundation remembering a time that will never come again. Friendships will be recalled that were fostered here. Stories will be told to children who may never understand nor is it likely that they will even care.
A purpose has been served here on this corner. Stately trees line my front although the grass withers and weeds are taking over the cracks in the sidewalk. The electricity has been severed and water no longer runs through my veins, but I served the students who once called me home - with pride and quiet dignity.
Certainly there will come a time when I am reduced to rubble. Each brick, once painstakingly placed, will be uprooted with violent force and I will then live only in photos and memories. However, today I will content myself to watch as neighborhood children board buses for a cross-town trip where a ‘youngster’ will greet them and welcome them to halls that seem less innocent, less sociable - less kind.
Perhaps I will be proven wrong. I hope so - for their sake - I do so hope. Perhaps I am just too old fashion.
And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing (Psalm 71:9 - NLT).
Glenn, this is the first opportunity I've had to read your wonderful story. I'm so glad you picked up on the idea. This was so special - and more than a little sad. My "elementary school" (we call it Primary School in Australia) turned 100 years old when I was in Year 4 - long time ago! It's still there, 34 years later and still seeing the children come and grow. The school may be nostalgic, but I tell you what, I am regularly overwhelmed with nostalgia for it. Funny, highschool doesn't hold that same feeling. I particularly liked what you wrote about the changes the school had seen - from the prayers to the illegal substance searches. It really is so sad isn't it? Thanks for taking the time to write this Glenn. It's a gem. With love, Deb