Reflections: School Paths Cast in Time


© 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.

School Paths

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


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