I AM SITTING among a sea of fallen oak leaves, staring at the route I walked some 45 years ago to my grammar school, a quarter mile stretch of road that was not without its occasional dangers. The schoolyard has been upgraded through time but it is still basically the same. At the end closest to the railroad tracks is the pavement where we played kickball, dodgeball, where I accidently contributed to Matt breaking a front tooth, and where, in summer, I would leave the pool across the street to practice basketball alone.
Beyond the far fence I recall the tiny home where Mr. Cyrus, the janitor, lived, now an under-used field for soccer and lacrosse practices, sports that were a foreign language then. Sometimes I take my son there to catch fly balls.
Today, the field is a destination for Fall Festival hay rides. A fire is blazing there for kids to get out for S’mores. We are all volunteering for a PTO that has real financial needs. I’m guarding a gate inside of which two ponies are led, there for children to ride.
Behind me, my first grade classroom, Mrs. Dorsey, so much anxiety for me… and laughs… and friends I went all the way through school with: Jane, Tim, Kathryn, Mike, Anne. Where are they now? Most are spread to the four winds, none close enough to call close.
In front of me, two children jump on one of the five benches I helped a new friend install some years ago, when my oldest was still here. They are arranged in a circle in front of one of two oak trees, so tall and majestic. I remember when the trees were not to be climbed on, for their health, not ours.
My world seems so small now, when once I felt I could not be contained. I wonder what I’ve learned since those early days. I remember drawing characters and writing little stories to go with them. I made up songs, though then I only hoped to learn the guitar. Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten? Maybe.
I have helped mow these leaves with Mr. Taylor and his Cub Scouts. He was my scoutmaster back then as well. Now he’s gone. As is my favorite teacher, Jo Ashworth, who could draw with chalk a perfect circle on the board. Because she was perfect, she would say. She took us away from fourth grade each day after lunch though we never left our desks, reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I can still hear her voice, and see the twinkle in her eye as she’d look up from the book in pause, to accentuate Twain’s humor.
Many of those teachers are gone I would guess, except maybe Ms. Foster, second grade, a descendant of the songwriter Stephen Foster. Young and pretty, I was smitten. She tamed me of future rudeness by calling me out before the class. I wish she could have rid me of all my indiscretions and ignorance. She became Mrs. Kelly and moved away.
Nearby, my youngest hangs upsides down, her long blond hair almost touching the ground. A cool breeze brings the aroma of fried batter and powdered sugar. A new generation of parents walk with their children, though I see grandmothers and great-grandmothers that I know by name. Somehow, I’m the overlap. What a journey. I cannot look down that road again. I must now move forward.