A big thing in our house right now is the History Channel series America: The Story of Us. Our recent home-schooling experiences have taught us the value of history told in unique and creative ways. We keep recording these programs and getting sucked in by the “I-never-knew-that” factor upon which these types of series seem to be built.
Yet despite the flashy reenactments and deep-voiced cinematic narration, there’s still no substitute for first-hand experience. My children learned this on a recent family trip to Logan Jr. High School, the historic institution where my wife attended kindergarten, first, and second grades. I should immediately point out that my wife is in no way historic. The school, however, is. In fact, it’s not even a working school now, but rather a community center safely in the hands of local preservationists.
Logan Jr. High School is an unassuming, ancient structure with tan rock walls and hardwood floors that bare witness to years of young feet finding their way through life. Thanks to the afore-mentioned preservationists, almost every detail of this facility is still in tact, right down to the trophies displayed proudly in glass cases along the main hallway. Fading class photos chronicle a legacy of neatly posed children sitting in ordered rows of desks. Of the few classrooms, most are large and designed to accommodate more than one class at a time. According to my wife, her second grade classroom and its teacher were shared by an entire other grade – at the same time.
The large rooms still have all the trappings, including the manual pencil sharpeners and chalkboards of solid and dashed parallel lines. But perhaps the most intriguing fixtures are the small hallways hidden behind each of the classrooms. These narrow spaces, called cloak rooms, are lined with wall hooks and low shelves. Designed for quick one-way traffic, cloak rooms facilitated the in and out rush of children as they hurried to beat the bell or were saved by it. It’s not so odd, even now, to find an area of a classroom devoted to coats and books. But this space was different. It’s placement, it’s design, it’s feel were all oddly reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie.
I’ll spare you the true historical facts surrounding the school. Suffice to say that it housed more than one generation of the local community. Even older family members touring with us remarked several times how much smaller things were than they had remembered as a child.
As we strolled through the dark halls (apparently the preservationists are also energy conservationists), my wife began to laugh. She told our girls about a particular morning when she decided NOT to go gentle into that good school. After being dropped off, she cried and kicked and screamed and employed all sorts of unorthodox diplomacy. Her teacher, unyielding, tightened her grip and hauled her into the school. My wife’s subsequent protests turned to kicking which resulted in the unfortunate flight of one of her shoes. The flight ended when the shoe struck the principle in the forehead.
As she laughed, she told us that neither she, nor her teacher, nor the principle were laughing at the time.
She could have shared that story sitting in our living room. But now my kids have touched and smelled and felt what it was like for their mother to be a kid in school. They’ve walked those halls, seen those pictures, and heard those stories, even as they stood in the very spot where that history was made.
And so, on a Sunday afternoon, in a little town from which we get the name of our third child, our family gained a true understanding of, and perhaps even an appreciation for, one episode of The Abbotts: The Story of Us.