Everyday for the past week, my oldest daughter has asked to go to the school.
My elementary school.
The one they are tearing down ruthlessly to the ground.
It’s not a pretty sight. In fact, it’s quite a boring process to watch. But it is, in some odd way, not only a grieving process, but a healing process.
In the parking lot across the street from this old, worn-down school, a community is coming together. Residents, former students, former teachers and families are all flocking here, and parking, and watching. Taking photos of the destruction. Telling stories. Remembering.
Remembering is a good thing. Remembering is hopeful. Remembering means that the past will not go away when the building does. My little school will live on, in memories, and old pictures, and in a Facebook page, and now in the mind of my oldest daughter who will likely name the summer of 2012 as the “Summer They Tore Down Mom’s School.”
So every day, we park the car across the street and watch. And every day, people park their cars, cross the street from this parking lot, and stand outside the wire fence blocking off the school, and wait.
They wait for the demolition worker to stop the crane and get within earshot, and the question is always the same:
“Can I have a brick? Please?”
And the man in the hard hat retreats into the dusty rubble, and returns with a stack of dirty bricks. And the people take the bricks and cross the street with a smile, mixed sometimes with tears.
The ritual repeats, over and over. All day long.
They just want something tangible, something physical of the school that is no more. Who knows what will happen to those bricks? They will likely end up as bookends, or doorstops, or stuffed in some basement or a garage. Hopefully someone will remember their history, down the line.
Despite the sadness of losing this building, which will be replaced by a chain pharmacy, it seems something good has risen like a Phoenix from the ashes of this school. People are connecting in a way I think few have connected in my community in a long, long time. People of all generations, of all classes, are drawn to this place, sharing a common bond.
This moment, this connection, could be fleeting. But I am hopeful that it isn’t. I am hopeful this moment is a springboard for change in my town, which needs to preserve its past in many ways. I am hopeful that all the children I have seen in the parking lot this week, eating Happy Meals and snacks in the back of SUVs while moms wistfully watch the school deconstruction or chat with neighbors, remember this, and their parents’ stories, and learn from it. I hope they value the past to save other buildings in town before they vanish before our eyes, as well as the stories they accompany them.
I believe my daughter will.
Yesterday, on the way home, she said: “I wish I went to your school.”
“Why?” I asked.
“It seemed like fun,” she said.
Clearly, she enjoyed the stories she has heard this week, as well as those I’ve told her throughout her short life. We drive by the school practically daily on the way to my parents’ house, so she is familiar with the building and her mother’s childhood memories.
“I just wish you could have seen the inside, just once,” I said, realizing that the school was shuttered before she was even born 10 years ago.
“Me too,” she said, somewhat sadly.
She is seeing the inside now, just not the way I would have liked her too, as she peers through a building torn apart and zooms in with her little camera lens and tries to imagine what her mother was like at her age. I try to imagine too, as I peer into that building, classrooms sheared off by a big claw, the blackboard of my kindergarten classroom exposed to the world and the vintage wooden door to my second grade room flapping in the breeze.
It may have been many years ago, but memories are fresh, and flooding back. Milk cartons at snack time and May poles in the spring, kickball at recess, hopscotch and cat’s cradle on the playground, school concerts and plays, learning to play the flute in a tiny closet, lining up on the painted line when the bell rang outside, sitting boy-girl-boy-girl in the hot lunchroom, Brownie Scout meetings in the basement, book fairs in the old hallways, baking cookies in a toaster oven, field days and gym shows, lining up for nurse lice checks and art class crammed in one end of the cold lunchroom.
I wouldn’t have had it any other way, even today. That is my lesson that I have learned.
And I will keep sharing stories and telling tales and passing it on and fighting to preserve the past as much as I can.
I hope others do too. That is my hope.