I stand at the edge of the path and stare into the clearing. The schoolhouse, long ago abandoned, somehow manages to retain its warmth in the midst of the cold, forgotten landscape. Nowadays, schools resemble prisons; sprawling gray fortresses children are forced to attend. That was not always so, and the loss saddens me.
This red schoolhouse, like most of the others of its day, resembles a church. Though even the churches have now grown large and foreboding, haven’t they? We’re always striving for bigger and better. Somewhere along the way, we traded our quaint lifestyle for high-rises and shopping malls the size of small cities.
I look at the barren tree and recall the days of playing Ring-Around-the-Rosie. I can almost hear the shrill giggles of my childhood friends as we clasped hands in a circle. Mrs. Schneider, our teacher, would call us in after our fifteen-minute recess and all our noses would be bright red from the cold. We’d quickly settle into our seats, always happy to be there. We all loved our school and our teacher. Learning was an adventure we each eagerly sought.
I’ve been gone from this place for many years. I grew up and married my childhood crush. Elliot sat behind me from kindergarten through fifth grade, right here in this very schoolhouse. He’d pull on my strawberry-blonde banana curls and feign innocence when I turned to tell him to stop.
As young adults, Elliot’s job took us far away. We settled into our new life and raised four beautiful children. Our children grew into wonderful adults, and soon we were blessed with fifteen healthy grandchildren. When I look back, it all seems to have happened in the blink of an eye. Hard to believe I now have seven great-grandchildren. And I’m a widow. I lost Elliot three years ago. When I close my eyes, I can still feel him pulling on my banana curls.
I have not returned to this place in all the decades of my adulthood. The memories, though, remain vivid. This was a time of joyous innocence, and I worry that this new generation of children will never know such youthful exuberance.
My granddaughter, Barbara, touches my arm. “Are you ready to go, Grandma?” she asks. “It’s getting awfully cold.”
I look at that little red schoolhouse and try to imagine the scene through her eyes. She might describe it as old-fashioned, possibly even bleak. Everything in her world has always been so much larger. She grew up in a city of skyscrapers, and her son’s school is a huge block of concrete with metal detectors and security guards.
This little red schoolhouse is where I learned about the world, and where I fell in love. I don’t know how to tell her all I feel when I stand here.
Barbara senses my melancholy. She wraps her arms around me and says, “Sad that they’re tearing it down.”
Tears sting my eyes. “Yes. Before long this will be yet another mall.”
She slips a camera from her pocket and snaps a photo. That’s what our lives come down to in the end; just a snapshot in time.