Friday, April 26, 2013

Staying Away From the Old Gym

Only a recent trip to Hometown5000, I had the chance to swing by my alma mater, Hometown5000 Heights Elementary School.  Here's what it looks like from the "front," although which direction the building is really facing was always ambiguous.

For instance, on my first day of school -- a most traumatic day in the life of any confirmed introvert -- my mother put me on the bus and promised me she would meet me at the front door of the school.  Which is to say, here:

And she was as good as her word.  But I was at the equally front-seeming door at the other side of the building, brokenhearted and crying my little eyes out:

Soon enough, though, I would start learning how to fit in and get comfortable with the other kids!  And I'm happy to say that, 38 years later, I continue to make progress along those lines.

In local parlance the building has long been called "The Quonset Hut," although as you see it is in reality two quonset huts trapped in an unhappy marriage.  While I was a student there, an enormous (I thought at the time) second building, "The Old Gym," dominated the property.  It had been condemned, and the primary concern and responsibility of our teachers was, sure, to get us reading, adding, and subtracting if possible, but first and foremost to keep us away from The Old Gym.  Wandering off into the clifftop forest behind the playground was tacitly permitted, but we were made to understand in no uncertain terms that the most draconian punishments imaginable could and would be leveled on anyone approaching The Old Gym.  You know those prison movies where the warden tells the new inmates what will happen if they approach The Wall?  It was kind of like that for us and The Old Gym.  This was the cornerstone of our early education.  I may not spell well today, and I may not be the tops for critical thinking, but by God I know to stay away from The Old Gym.

Now, The Old Gym's cordon sanitaire made lunch and recess an interesting event on rainy days.  With no other buildings on the property, there was literally no place outside The Quonset Hut itself where we could be legally stowed.  The solution was to turn all of us -- probably 120 kids? -- loose in the hallway with jumpropes, hula-hoops, and any other weapons-grade hard plastic toys that the district could afford.  The ensuing chaos seldom spared the vast constellation of buckets placed strategically underneath the central trough of the building's roof.  It seemed perfectly normal to us, of course, but it must have looked downright Dantean to visitors from out of town.  Fortunately, it hardly ever rains on the Oregon Coast.

Here's my first-grade classroom!

I should mention that the building is no longer used as a school.  In fact it was condemned after my first grade year, when it was discovered that it was comprised of 2 parts corrugated rust to 1 part asbestos.  When we used the nearby school track in later years, coaches and teachers would forbid us even to approach The Quonset Hut.  The old training -- keep away from the Old Gym -- really came in handy.  Still, it was fun to trick  the more conscientious teachers into trying to explain why we had been made to spend our innocent childhood in what was now considered a toxic site.

As a school, it might have been humble, but those of us who went there learned important lessons about life.   By comparison, the kids these days have it easy.  After all, The Old Gym was torn down many, many years ago.  They aren't even tempted.

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