A wise man once said, “it’s funny what a young man recollects.” I absolutely agree. Some of the things I remember from childhood were a formative watershed that reverberates in my life to this day. Some were a bellwether either troubling or promising, back to which I can trace a line of development. Some are just dumb things, and I can’t imagine why they stick with me. Come to think of it, that’s actually Forrest Gump I was quoting. Let’s move on.
Woodland Elementary was, as far as I know, a fairly typical small-town public school. It was brick with old-timey louvered windows and covered sidewalks. It had a main building where the principal worked in his office and two classroom wings where the children worked, hoping they would have no interaction with the principal. There were a couple of mobile classrooms out back. These served to provide additional classroom space and to provide recurring nightmares to the children who happened to be in one during a tornado watch. Or tornado warning. I’m not sure which is which, I just know the teacher was crying a little and we were all going to die.
The mobile classrooms were adjacent to the playground where the main draw was the swings. You may think you’ve swinged well, but you’ve not swung better than a Woodland swing. I recall the support legs looming many stories high with chains reaching above my head into low-level clouds. These were jumping swings. The seats were springy and the chains were smooth. The sand under each spot was wallowed-out perfectly for your feet to clear on the kick phase. I was never comfortable with the elbows-out exit maneuver, but I don’t think it hurt my distance too much.
The time would fail me to tell of the lunchroom with its slurpy Jello served in paper cups, or the library with its copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark that traumatized me. I faintly recollect the school secretary wearing a giant paperclip necklace. Also I recall the school nurse being casually dismissive of my fears of lead poisoning when my pencil tip broke off under my thumbnail. But by far the clearest memory I have of my time at Woodland was the day the television was wheeled-out for us to watch the Space Shuttle launch. The Challenger was taking a teacher into orbit and everyone was excited. Boy, that still chokes me up a little. I guess that’s one of those reverberating watersheds I mentioned earlier.
I’m grateful for my time at Woodland as a student. I’m even more grateful for a moment I spent there a decade and a half later. When I decided to ask Christy to marry me I felt burdened to imbue the moment with meaning. Not just to ring the doorbell of a new life together, but to match its tone to the echoes of the past. I craved continuity to undergird my ardor. So on Valentine’s evening she and I held hands and walked from the parking lot to the playground. We stood under the stars, not too far from the swings. Knee, ring, yes, kiss, done.
At some point later they tore the school down and built another one with the same name a couple of miles away. I’m sure it’s very nice, but I’m awfully glad I was there for the old Woodland.