Friday, March 27, 2009

Hard to say goodbye

A note from Kat: You'll have to pardon my absence as of late, I've been under the weather (which sucks when it's only 32 degrees outside).

If anyone has been following me on Facebook, you've probably read that the building where I attended elementary school is being demolished this week.

Since my entire family has grown up as part of this school system and parish (it's a Catholic school), it's been a pretty big deal for us. I did a story for the newspaper where I work; as you can tell by reading that story, the school had a special place in the hearts of many residents of my hometown.

I realized something special writing this story. This realization has made it easier to say goodbye this landmark. Here's what I discovered.

For many years, there were no screens in the windows at the old Sacred Heart School building.

This detail helped set up what I believe was probably one of the meanest (and funniest) pranks in the school’s history.

One warm, sunny day, some students (maybe in my dad’s class, maybe not) hatched a scheme to frighten their teacher – a nun – at the school. While one student went outside and lay on the ground, his classmates stood at the third-floor window, pretending to be horrified when the teacher entered the room.

Their exclamations of, “He fell out the window!” no doubt sent the pulse of this poor, unsuspecting teacher racing. After looking out the window and seeing the student on the ground, the nun took off in a dead sprint out of the room and down the stairs.

Meanwhile, the student’s classmates yelled down that the teacher was coming to his aid and that he should use another door to get back to the classroom.

By the time the nun reached ground level, the “injured” student was nowhere to be found.My dad never told me what kind of punishment these rebel-rousers faced when the nun returned to the classroom and discovered her “injured student” had merely pulled her leg. But he always laughs when he recounts the tale.

I can’t verify his story. Nor can I verify the accuracy of the veritable plethora of stories he told about other pranks. But I don’t doubt that these events could have happened. I spent enough hours in the classrooms at old Sacred Heart daydreaming about how the mechanics of such a practical joke would work.

In fact, I spent a lot of time in those classrooms daydreaming about my future. About how would I define success. Whether or not I would achieve the success I’d defined for myself. Whether or not I’d travel the world.Ironically, I ended up working in a building less than a block away.

Every morning as I came to work, I’d look to the south and remember the good times I had in that building and the friendships I cultivated within the walls of old Sacred Heart.

For the last eleven years, I’ve watched the building that helped so many students construct a strong foundation for their futures slip further into disrepair. It’s been a lot like watching a friend succumb to old age, and as much as I hated to acknowledge it, I knew the day would come when I’d have to say goodbye to my elderly neighbor.

After all, nothing lasts forever.

Well, that’s what I thought until I begn working with several of the school’s alumni on the stories and began to see a pattern.

One graduate, Travis Pinkelman, told me: “I can remember every teacher and priest I had, but Ms. Hammond sticks out as my Kindergarten teacher and how she still remembers every student she has taught. I have ran into her around Norfolk and she will remember everything about me.”

Jim Casey, another graduate, said his memories of Paul the Janitor led to his affinity for Stephen King horror novels.

Sue Fuchtman (Norfolk's mayor) told me she remembers the nun she had as a third-grade teacher that would discipline naughty students by making them kneel on the floor with their nose against the chalkboard.

One of my classmates, Shawn Smith, told me his favorite memories of the building centered on rehearsing for the eighth-grade play, “Medium Rare,” and getting to know classmates outside of a classroom setting in that gym.

And my favorite memory of that school was the unpredictability of Doug Zoucha’s history class.

Slowly, I realized that in one way or another it was the people we met in Sacred Heart’s halls and classrooms (and that itty bitty gymnasium) that made it what it was.

Not the mortar and brick.

It became clear to me – by the number of folks who enthusiastically recounted their favorite memories – that the spirit that made old Sacred Heart such a great place is alive and well. It will continue to live on through the new school, new students and new memories.

Yes, it’s sad to see the end of an era.

I, like many other students who attended school there, wouldn’t trade the time I spent in that old building for anything.Old Sacred Heart will always have a place in Norfolk’s history books.

And you can’t throw history away.

UPDATE: I posted this on my work blog, and this comment was left by a gentleman named Mick Winn: "Regarding the window incident, took place on spring day in 1955.....eight grade class room.Top floor on the left..........perpetrated byLee Quenelle (deceased 1968)The eventual class of '59 will hold their 50thclass reunion this summer in Norfolk, and I'm sure there will be many other memories to reflect on......this class had some bright students and some bold ones too........."


lynnrush said...

What a great story, Kat. I'm sorry you're under the weather....grrrr, indeed.

Wow, you're whole family at that school? That is a bit of history!

Thanks for sharing.

Crimogenic said...

Feel better Kat!

Great story. It's the memories that ensure that our beloved places lives on within us.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

I wish we didn't tear down buildings so readily in America.

This is how we lose our visual history, because it's more profitable to build something new and different than to figure out how to use what's there.

But I do agree with you that it's the people who made up your school, just as it's the people who make up a church. I realize this each time I return to my old high school. Without the people who were there with me, it doesn't mean a lot. But when I see a former teacher or attend a reunion, it's unlike anything else.