When we picture ruins, the Roman Colosseum or Parthenon in Greece are likely the first things that come to mind - old buildings that are far away, with a rich history that people all over the world know and recognize. We find these places fascinating, and many spend large amounts of money traveling there and crawling about among the crumbling stones, or buying large coffee table books with their photos and stories. It seems fascinating, too, that these ruins are just a crumbled stone's throw away from populous neighborhoods and cities - that people live and work and socialize so close to something so historic.
I read a quote recently that said something along the lines of, "Like the Romans, we are living among our own ruins." Ruins aren't only in Greece or Rome - ruins are popping up all around us as new buildings are built and old ones are abandoned - as the economy struggles and cities and towns and people just don't know what to do with buildings they can no longer use. They're not necessarily centuries old, but they become old faster than buildings that are cared for. It's sort of the past and the present coming together - it's "Wibbly wobbly timey wimey," to quote Doctor Who.
I found this to be true yesterday when I visited my old elementary school. It isn't crumbling down, and has only been out of use for about 4 years, but I was surprised when walking through its rooms to see the empty, sad state of the building. I was there to pick up some tables I had won in a liquidation auction of the detritus left behind when the building was closed, and took some time to look around and take some photos.
|Stage in the Cafetorium looking neglected|
|Empty shelves and closets|
The good thing for me, at least, is that I knew this building in its prime. I have wonderful, warm memories that helped me to block out the cold and sad feelings that seeped into me at first. As I stood in the front hallway, waiting to pay for my tables, I recalled the "Lunch with the Principal" tradition that our amazing, kind principal, Mr. Vandercook started. We got a special invitation once a year (it was fancy!) and got to eat with him in his office - he was so kind and it was so much fun! The school also had a competition each year called "T3O Day" - a day we we had to "Totally Turn Off Television." If enough kids did it, Mr. Vandercook would do crazy things like push an orange with his nose across the cafeteria, or dress as an old lady and sit in a rocking chair on the roof and throw candy to us. I wish there were more principals like him.
I also remembered that right about where I was standing in the hallway, a kid dropped his lunch tray and chocolate milk spread and mingled with his leftover food. Moments later our art teacher, Mrs. Walker, came by and said, "Oh look!! Art!" That opened up my mind to art in ways I had never imagined - that statement affected me in more ways than she could have hoped.
Each place held memories for me that I tried to recall as I went through them to chase away the dark and cold. (Instagramming the photos later helped make them look warmer than they were originally!) Memories like glorious hours spent in the library discovering favorite authors like Lynn Reid Banks, Roald Dahl, and Edward Eager (to override images of chairs piled up or globes abandoned).
Wonderful, fun memories of lunchtime in the Cafetorium, or the spring Carnival, or the awesome, huge climbing structure once attached to the wall (before they built the new gym at the back of the school), plus the fifth grade talent show performances and school plays.
My amazing fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Fett, who was so kind and taught me so much about being a good teacher, and who took some of us to Dairy Queen the last day of school because we stayed after to help her clean up her classroom.
And then there were parts of the school I'd never seen (like the staff lounge) or hadn't spent much time in (like the newer sections of the school built at the end of my time there), but which held other peoples' memories.
|This child-sized wheel chair was just so dusty and creepy and Changeling*-like that|
I expected it to start chasing after me...
The hope (for me as well as the school district) is that the school will be bought and put to good use - that its halls and rooms will once again be filled with warmth and that new memories will be made there. In the mean time, I (and many others) continue to be fascinated with how we just walk away from places that once were so well-used and -loved. If you want to see more examples, check out my Pinterest board with the same name as this post (link). I may begin posting more about some of them here on my blog from time to time.
2/12/14 Update: Sadly the school will not be reopened. The district has decided that the most economical thing to do is to have the building demolished and to sell the property for residential development. So sad, but it will be good for the area and for the school district. All good things...