In memory of beginnings

By Sarah Allen

April 3, 2014

Last week, I wrote a column where I described looking for rocks on the playground where I went to school. I started attending Fairfield Local in 1996, meaning that I started my education in what everyone calls the “old school.”

While writing that column, I included a line stating the old building had been demolished. My first instinct was to change that word to “torn down,” which seemed a much nicer phrase. But, in the end, I decided demolished was the right word because that is, after all, what had happened.

Yet, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad when I saw that word. How could the memory of the old school — which has been nothing but a vacant lot since 2002 — still have such a staggering effect on me?

Perhaps it makes me feel old. (Uh-oh, if I feel that way at 22, then middle age is going to be torture).

My brother, six years younger than me, cannot remember that building at all. But, for me, that place was my first home-away-from-home.

It was an old building, and it looked exactly how a school should: two stories, with a bold facade and stairs that led to grand opening doors. (At least that’s how it looked to me when I was little).

I can remember the mint green walls of the cafeteria, and that spot on the playground, between the cafeteria door and the door that led to the first-grade hallway, where there always seemed to be a little whirlwind of leaves.

I can remember the art room underneath the gymnasium bleachers, and how hard those cement bleachers were during every assembly.

I can also remember how the gymnasium would be filled with games and booths during the annual Halloween Festival (because it was still called a Halloween Festival back then).

And I can remember the long walk up the stairs to the library that was alway stuffy, but that, with catacombs of books upon books, always felt like a proper, cozy place to read.

I have so many memories connected to that old building, and I was only there until the fifth grade. I can’t imagine the memories other people have. For me, that school was where I made my first friends. It was where my mom learned years before I did, and where she eventually worked. It was also where my grandma worked as head cook.

Memories are strange things. Many psychologists will tell you memories can’t really be trusted. They have different ways of explaining why. “The Illusion of Truth” effect, for instance, causes a person to believe something is true simply because it sounds familiar. Another concept is that of confabulation, wherein the brain confuses an imagined event for a real one. Further, studies have shown that elements such as stress and mood can affect memory.

And yet we rely on memories so much. They are so tied to our emotions that it is little wonder they can make us feel so many things at once.

Looking back at my memories of the “old school,” I can’t help but feel both happy and sad. There were a lot of good moments in that building, but we desperately needed a new one.

I was present at the new school’s groundbreaking, and I also toured the new building when it was still under construction.

And I remember the awe that I and my fellow students felt when we started classes. The building was, literally, “new and shiny.” And, then, when trying to navigate the seemingly labyrinthine building … well, let’s just say I understood how those little mice in labs must feel.

So, yes, those memories of the old school bring both happiness and sadness. But isn’t that true of almost everything? I look back on my early years of education, and I see all the changes — both good and bad — and I see how one school ended, gone forever, and how another one began, ready to be the home of new memories.

After all, there are so many things memories can make us realize. They can force us to see how unavoidable endings are. Or how nothing will ever stay the same. Or how the years don’t stop and that, eventually, age catches up to everything and everyone.

But there’s something else memories can teach us, too. And, for me, no one summarized that lesson better than the 1990s rock band Semisonic. In the song, “Closing Time,” they sang, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

So, as we look back on memories, let’s celebrate, not the endings, but the beginnings that always, inevitably, come.

Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.