Thursday, July 7, 2016
Traveling to the Past
Even though it was 57 years ago, I remember it vividly. The layout of the school. The long hall that went from the cafeteria on the north to the large gymnasium on the south. Three large classrooms lined each side of the hall, one for each grade.
Long before my time in 1959, the school had been the entire school system for the town of Atoka, New Mexico. By 1959 there was nothing left of the town except the school, a few teachers' homes and a little store at the corner of the school road and the highway to Roswell. The store was owned by an old couple, so old that the wife had gone senile. They never had children and when children came into the store she would scream and throw canned goods at them. At least that's what the parents told us.
I went to first, second and third grades in that school. It had turquoise walls above cream tiles in every room. There were cabinets where everything was stored and each of us had our own cupboard with a door.
The cafeteria was run by two women who wore white uniforms and black hair nets. One of them had long whiskers growing out of two moles on her chin. They would bake the rolls and cupcakes every morning for our lunches. They would make tamales from scratch, fry up the corn tortillas for soft tacos, trim the ends off fresh green beans when in season, and often we had pork. Because all the food we didn't eat, we scraped into a large bucket at the beginning of the line where we left our trays and dishes. When lunch ended, the bucket was toted across the street to one of the teachers' homes where they fed two hogs. All the ham in our sandwiches and bacon in our burritos came from those hogs.
The school had other buildings but they were used only for music classes and art. The principal's office was in that building, too, along with other mystery rooms from which kids were banned. We rarely had music or art because the crawlspace under that building was crawling with skunks and the smell was usually so bad nobody could go in there.
A couple of years ago, I went to the school. It was abandoned decades ago. Some commercial company used it for a while to repair trucks. They had installed roll-up doors in the giant gymnasium but the entire complex was in ruins. The windows were smashed. The trees were all dead. Anything that wasn't nailed down had been taken or busted up. A ring-tailed cat carcass was lying in the doorway of the principal's office.
It is a school that no longer is. In a town that hasn't existed in half a century. But that school is where I learned to read, to write, and where I learned about recycling leftover food by feeding an animal I would also eat eventually. Schools don't dare teach those lessons any more.