Elementary Appreciation.

My evening walk takes me past the elementary school I attended from kindergarten through third grade. A lot about it is the same, but much is completely different.

There’s a scrolling LED sign in place of the old marquee which held changeable, firm letters. It’s the new millenium’s way of announcing the important things, I suppose — half-days, birthdays, upcoming holidays and vacations. I miss the old sign.

When I walk past the dumpster, it’s not the stench that makes me take pause — it’s the flood of memories that takes me back to the days when we’d get McDonald’s hamburgers, tiny cardboard cartons of fruit punch and a bag of Lay’s potato chips for lunch once a week. Or maybe it was once every two weeks…I can’t recall exactly. But I remember the smell following an afternoon of partially eaten buns and patties cohabitating in a stuffy trashcan. It was repulsive, yet it spoke to a fun, decidedly atypical school lunch that we were fortunate to enjoy while staying within the safe confines of the campus. I can still remember holding the smooth, waxy punch carton in my hand and being mesmerized by its burgundy color and white type.

When I walk past the parking lot, I remember the rows of lunch tables under giant shade trees which used to be there. Sometimes we’d draw a hopscotch pattern in chalk and play if we finished eating early. I remember Mrs. Orr, the lunch lady who would take pity upon the children whose lunches contained a whole orange versus one that had been quartered. She would take her orange peeler and effortlessly reveal the pith-covered segments; there was never a shortage of kids around her, clamoring for assistance. The lunch area also is where we’d congregate for school assemblies and awards. It makes me sad that it’s one giant, treeless blacktop now full of nothing but lines that denote too many parking stalls in too small of a space. Sigh.

When I walk past the playground, I remember playing under trees there, too. They’ve since been removed, their proud, tall presence replaced with a concrete and asphalt bus turnabout and another school also crammed into too small of a space. Nothing flora-related makes me more depressed than seeing trees planted in a 3′ by 3′ space in a concrete sidewalk, except seeing no trees at all — particularly if they’d lived a long life only to be cut down in the name of progress, of expansion.

I miss the classroom walls lined with crank-out windows, although the general shape and color of the building remains unchanged. The old windows were replaced with more efficient ones long ago, and the young, immature plants under the front office windows are now all filled out and look quite lush. My mom used to work in the front office, and whenever I glance at the building I remember occasionally seeing her during my school day. Knowing that many kids then and now often are away from their parents for 12+ hours at a time, I can tell you that I didn’t realize how lucky I was…but now I do. And I continue to be lucky to have both of them still around.

If you’d have told me as a kindergartner that I’d grow up, go to college in Michigan, return to California, relocate to Connecticut and return home once more — to the same town I grew up in and a stone’s throw from my elementary school — I either wouldn’t have believed you, or I might’ve considered it a bit sad. Who would want to go home? What sort of grown-up does that? Where’s the growth? Isn’t that similar to going in reverse?

The truth is that I love the town I grew up in, and I know it’s because of the childhood I was fortunate to have. Not everyone has that in a home or in a childhood, but my hope is that they find a sense of warmth of peace in some place, at some time, in some way. For mine and for the memories I have which take me back to a simple, carefree time in my life which I appreciate and remember fondly now more than ever, I am thankful.

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