You never know what’s going to shape a child’s life

It all started in 1917, although I wouldn’t show up for another 60 years or so.

I have to admit I don’t think about it very often. It was just an old, brick building on the other side of town. I had to walk there every day, not uphill or in a blizzard, but sometimes walking backwards so the biting wind wouldn’t hurt my face. I had to cross railroad tracks to get there, and once in a while I would get stuck waiting for an especially long train to blow through our little town before I could carry on. I had to walk past the mill and its thickly sweet smell of freshly ground corn that forever corrupted the purity of my airways.

If I close my eyes, I can still smell the thickness of that corn. I can feel the trembling rush of those trains that screamed their way in and out of my childhood.

But, overall, my years at Ashley School #2 tend to lie dormant in my mind, only popping to the surface at random times like the prairie dogs I once observed in South Dakota.

Once in a while I’ll be driving to work, and I’ll think about the kid who sat beside me in sixth grade. I was a shy kid who never got in trouble, and I was excited to tackle my last year before moving upstairs to Junior High. This kid couldn’t seem to make it to that next level. He and sixth grade were on their third go-round the year I sat by him. I hope he made it.

Or I might be reading about some elementary school kid wreaking havoc, and I’ll remember Mrs. Tarpy, our principal, whose thick wooden paddle hung on the wall in a prominent place near her office door. One look at that block of wood was enough to put the fear of God in me for the rest of my days. Every now and then I still see that paddle in my mind’s eye, and I’m forever grateful I chose the fear of God.

There is a poor little frog from Biology class that pops into view far more often than I’d like. I try to forget him and the girl who passed out in the front row of class, but I can’t. Years of dedication from a staff of devoted teachers, and what stays with me is the smell of formaldehyde and the sight of a frog splayed out on the same desk where I would struggle with pre-algebra in the next class period.

I guess you never know what’s going to shape a child’s life.

There is the best friend I met while causing a ruckus in study hall. We still meet for lunch when I’m in town, and it’s like we’re thirteen again. We might as well be sitting there with Aqua Net hair wearing Izod polos with the collars flipped up. Thirty years melts into yesterday.

There was the terrible band I loved being a part of, and the Young Author’s conferences that whispered to me I could. There was the cafeteria with the green, partitioned trays and the white, collapsible tables where some of my happiest days were spent working in exchange for free lunches.

Most importantly, there were the Bookmobile visits when we would be dismissed by grades to go check out the stories that would carry us far and away from Ashley School #2.

I loved that the most because I was a quiet kid whose greatest talents were locked away in my own private world. The few times I tried something really big, like the year I tried out for cheerleading, things didn’t work out so well for me. By the time 8th grade graduation rolled around, I was ready to move on to bigger and better things.
It wasn’t the school’s fault. Not unless you count the fact that the dreams Ashley School #2 planted in me were much too big for the confines of that old brick building. My dreams had grown until they pushed forth like the roots of an old tree that could no longer be restrained underground.

That is what the old school wanted for me. Its sole purpose, its divine function, was to make me expand beyond the boundaries of what it could do for me.

Since I stumbled across the Facebook post announcing the imminent destruction of Ashley School #2, I have thought about it every single day. The building was ancient when I was there, so I understand it’s time for bigger and better things. But a large chunk of my childhood echoes within those ancient tiled hallways, and it makes me sad to know it will soon be gone forever.

Like it was never there at all.

Like I didn’t even exist.
But Ashley School #2 has delivered me safely into the future it always knew I could achieve, and it is time for us to part ways. That old school is one of the guardians of my past, and the vast majority of my earliest memories have been safeguarded within its brick walls. When that building comes crashing down, little pieces of me will be carried off along with it.
But I will still be here – me and hundreds of others like me – living testaments to the bond we’ve all shared.
Goodbye, Ashley School #2.
I will miss you.

One Reply to “You never know what’s going to shape a child’s life”

  1. My Father and his sisters went to that school growing up and my sister and I went there in one of my elementary years when our mom was in the hospital for an extended period of time. We walked from 105 west Taylor Street across those same railroad tracks as you did but we went on High Street because our Grandfather's barbershop was there between Dr. Davis' office and the printers shop by the bank. The last time that I was there at the school was for a football game when myself and friend David Bringle were home for leave in December of either 1961 0r 1963. I have many relatives buried at the cemetery near the school.


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