It’s a steady right turn off Route 36 south from Altoona just past the YMCA. I’ve done it thousands of times. All of us locals have. We’ve soothed our way past Hewit Street to the north, passing the “Y”, to drive past the junior high. Beside Hart Street it sits with extended splendor in both daylight, or under night starlight with bright artificial gleaming. Always a sight. Always a memory passing through my mind.
In that building were awesome band rehearsals, fun math classes, classrooms converted to temporary art rooms full of goofy shaped clay bowls, a woodshop where crooked sanded towel racks were assembled, and silly pasty white uniformed, skinny legged boy-gym experiences including lingering emotional and physical bruises from stupid, stinging dodge ball games. An early morning cafeteria provided a sit-down place for me to learn a list of prepositions as I waited for a first bell’s permission to enter one of many hallways. Classmates drizzled in, some by pairs, many by bus.
Few would say I had the good fortune to walk from one block away as it allowed for extra sleep-in time. This wasn’t always the case. That early sunrise cafeteria year in the junior high was a drop-off, sixth-grade, scoot-as-scoot can group of days. Dad was the consummate, arrive early, beat the sun up, senior high teacher whose perfect plan was to drop-off not only me, but also an older sister. We weathered the drive from a few miles out town for our sixth and seventh grade years. He found his way over to his school, we sat in ours. This school. This one.
So many years ago. Countless memories cross my mind as I write a thankful note here – in the basement of a house dad purchased during the summer between my sixth and seventh grade years. This is a place barely a block away from a junior high where I can’t escape some “not so good” memories, but mostly fond ones. Notably, a bush outside the older gym where I was motivated to first kiss a girl. I sit here thinking over hallways where books ended up on cold, tile floors and I ended up in the Principal’s office defending my retaliatory actions from bullies who pushed me too far during recess.
Awkward years for all of us.
I have to stop and say, “Thanks”. After all, it is the day, right?
This is a remarkable building. Up until the early 1970’s, it was the Hollidaysburg Senior High. In my lifetime, I’ve only known it to be the junior high – a building with a gyms at either end, and a band room immediately inside a slightly curved, multi-door entrance. All of the physical bricks and mortar, labs, cafeteria trays, dungeon-like rooms in the far hallway, music stands, and stuff inside don’t make it remarkable, however. Those are reserved as vehicles for memories to come as the current inhabitants belly up to their lockers. Years from now, teenage roadsters, who now drive on the educational highways inside, will use those as emotional rest stops … reliving either a pleasant past, or torturous teenage time in their life.
It’s not a perfect building. As a structure standing as a part of anyone’s life who spent a few years sitting in uncomfortable seats, walking on hard, uneven floors, or “exercising” on creaky wooden slats in the old gym, it isn’t going to excite the annals of educational history museums. Decades ago, there were the usual cafeteria table colors, locker rooms of blandness personified, and uniformity with every left and right step taken when I – as a wanderer of sorts – bounced from room to room wondering if tenth grade would ever arrive. A sophomore September move to the senior high was highly anticipated.
I say, “thanks”, to this not-so-perfect building today: A place steps away from where I am, now. A part of my past I cannot erase. A site where good and bad happened. A site of sadness, happiness, transition, and confusion. A stop-by during a November errand-run when everything else seemed more important, but wasn’t.
This, to me, is what Thanksgiving, 2021 looks like … and our beautiful junior high isn’t just a building in my life. It’s all the special people who still stand with me in both daylight, or under night starlight with their bright light gleaming. They are only steps away from where I am now and will help at a moment’s notice. I have friends and relatives who are part of my past and present, with good and bad experiences of course, who are always helpful … always kind, always genuine. Many have been with me in the hallways of transition and confusion without the urge to punch books out from under my arms. Being supported, in life’s school, is the greatest “thanks” that be can offered by me this year.
I know you have a lot to be thankful for this day. Be you … and give thanks for all you have or can give. It is, certainly, a very individual day for all of us.
I will pass by this school many, many times on my way back out toward Route 36. Even though the address for our junior high is, officially, 1000 Hewit Street, I offer my Hart-felt thanks to this building. For it is on that street I found my thankfulness last night. A fourteen-year old Honda – with a significantly older occupant – pulled over and ran idle for a few minutes. Inside, a very grateful man turned off his car’s headlights and openly considered a beautiful eighty-four years old steady brick building parked forever by his side. No walkers strode by on the sidewalk. No cars passed. The minutes were quiet.
Today is Thanksgiving. My building isn’t perfect, neither is my past.
Pull over, sit for a few minutes with family and friends today – if you are able – and recognize their transitions, confusions, “goods and bads”, pasts and presents. I suspect they know yours and still love, respect, and guide you along.
The cafeteria sits empty today. There are no early young boy and sister thoughts, or prepositional phrases being considered for the day’s lessons. Over the next few days, hallways will be quiet, rooms have only the hum of really old heating systems kicking on – filling desk spaces with invisible warmth. Perhaps a teacher, or two, will enter to prepare something ahead for the following week. This building, for the most part, will remain empty.
… Physically empty, but filling hearts with memories. Some good, some not. I am thankful for all of it. This is today, 2021. A Hart-felt thanks to everyone in my life.
… and to all, a Happy Thanksgiving.