© 2010 by Raymond Alexander Kukkee
Paths Cast in Time worn into the Mind
"How can a path so cast in time, so worn into the mind, and used so readily by hundreds of children for decades just disappear?"
The red brick schoolhouse rests with dignity, overseeing the neighborhood with an elegance often displayed by elderly folk as they sit silently, perhaps rocking slowly on a front porch on any early autumn morning. A private home now, it was a public grade school for 60 years, a simple, functional building with one classroom for school days, a cloakroom at the back for woolen coats and mittens, a tiny library for precious books, and a teacher’s room for rest .
In the schoolyard, bushes are covered with sparkling dewdrops, and mature, noble trees lean precociously, coddling the old building and its secrets. The happy echoes of laughing public-school children out in the playground have long disappeared into the bright sunshine with past school days, but the building itself pretends to be timeless. The red clay brick is unchanged, and the tall, multi-pane windows reflect the early morning sunlight brilliantly, just as they did decades before.
The long piles of white-barked birch firewood, logs cut into two foot lengths, split and always piled carefully along the fence have disappeared, just forgotten trees consumed in time by the maw of a huge wood-burning furnace deep in the heart of the central basement. A morning breeze playfully nudges small wisps of smoke from the red brick chimney, as if to prove another school day is about to begin.
Out in the playground, time seems to have disobeyed its obligation to march ever onward except for the fact there are no happy children, and the path around the building has disappeared completely under lush grass . The path. How can a path so cast in time, so worn into the mind, and used so readily by hundreds of children for decades just disappear? The path changed everything.
It is easy to recall, but disconcerting to remember the look of dismay, anger, and cold fear on the face of the gentle woman looking down at the boy. At the blackboard she taught thirty students ranging from Grade I to Grade VIII in the one-roomed school, but it was recess time. She was urgently called away from her desk, and it was to be far from an ordinary school day, far from a normal recess that might have had laughing children playing baseball, skipping ropes and playing tag, or just running around, enjoying the warm autumn sun while waiting for her to summon them back in with the jangling brass bell. Instead, at this recess, she was to help an injured boy . He was lying on the path at the back corner of the schoolhouse, his leg badly shattered.
It was a serious accident; a bigger, heavier schoolboy ran his heavy bicycle over the unfortunate, smaller observer who happened to be standing in the wrong place around the corner and out of sight. Senior boys were participating in a forbidden activity, the dangerous racing of bicycles on the worn, grooved path around the schoolhouse. It was forbidden because curious smaller children played everywhere in the schoolyard with abandon, often watching the bicyclists too closely with envy. The sky darkened as the children stood as one in wide-eyed silence, waiting for the teacher to answer the urgent request to come outside, and wondering what she would do.
Worse was the black rage on the face of the boy’s frantic mother when she discovered exactly why she had to be so urgently summoned to the schoolyard . She became pale with disbelief and then livid with anger when shown her oldest son lying on the path, writhing in agony. Curious children were quickly herded back into class, and the boy was taken to the hospital.
There was no explanation possible, no excuses offered, but there was certainly more than enough vindictive chatter, gossip, criticism, and assignment of blame for everyone. Silence and knowing looks were a heavy, bitter burden carried by the neighborhood for some time after the accident, if only because bullying had been previously identified as a recurring problem. In the neighborhood, all were hard-working, gentle people negotiating difficult times, and poverty – that distasteful economic status - helped dictate the degree of cruelty and sporting alienation practiced by their offspring with disdain. Bullying and discord was far too common among maturing, errant boys, and equally, older girls harassed and teased younger children endlessly and seemingly at will.
Not so for bike racing. The riding of bicycles around the blind corners on the worn schoolhouse path was stopped instantly by the broken leg and the white plaster cast.
The cast was admired, autographed and doodled upon as an attraction. It had to be full length. In some ways perhaps the heavy white plaster cast became a symbol of a new healing and maturity, a new start, if not the casting of a new form of hope and civility taking place in small steps. The cast was suitably changed to a lighter walking cast after an indefinite period, and the boy used crutches made of yellowed wood with white rubber tips on them. The crutches also became a new focal point of attention and examination in turn, with eager, wishful test runs by the able for entertainment. The boy returned, but school days were somehow different.
In retrospect, perhaps dissenting children, social indifference, dangerous bicycle paths and plaster casts do not provide equitable explanations for adult politics or the moving of a house either, but somehow the house in which the errant bicycle-rider’s family lived was later moved out of the neighborhood, carefully trucked all the way to the city, fireplace, chimney, porch and all. It disappeared slowly down the road, leaving little but curiosity, an empty lot, a future tangle of wild raspberry bushes growing against the old concrete foundation, and quiet accolades for the skill of honest, hard-working workmen required to successfully complete such projects.
The neighborhood has grown more beautiful and different. Trees have matured, and parents poignantly remember lessons learned in the one-room schoolhouse as their children catch buses to a modern, much larger school miles away. Many families are gone. Much has carefully faded into the past, but the single-room, red brick schoolhouse has remained elegant and unchanged, perhaps if only to whisper secrets of past school days to those pausing long enough to reflect in the early morning mist - and remaining silent enough to hear them.
Is that Incoming I hear?
tags: #reflections #bullying #the past #paths #school days #red brick schoolhouse #accidents