[Editor’s Note: This is one of those posts that has rattled around in my brain for weeks now. I hadn’t put the words to blog because there were so many images that I wanted to include to tell the story that I had to wait until the time was right to process the photos and upload them. Today was that day.]
This year, we’ve had several goodbyes that seemed to come out of the blue. Sure, there may have been some signs that an ending might come, but the final goodbye was still somewhat unexpected. One such moment was when we found out the Catholic school that all nine of us, plus my Mom, attended was closing. The effort to save the school fell below what the diocese had wanted so they had to make the 2011-12 school year the final one. The community was very sad and a closing mass was scheduled to let people say goodbye.
Saints Peter and Paul school itself had been in existence some 130+ years. This building was the place that my siblings and I all attended. I remember being a 1st grader walking past the angel statue posted near the outside door feeling like I was being guarded from anything or anyone bad who may want to enter.
Of course by 7th grade there were times when I needed that “protection” from some of the people inside the classroom with me…
Still, it was really hard to say goodbye to Saint Pete’s. Every square inch seemed to have a memory associated with it.
How many days did I stare out the windows at the passing cars daydreaming about where they were heading?
How many days did I run down the stairs to the recess area screaming with delight (and sometimes screaming because I nearly fell down the whole thing from running too fast)?
Some things had changed since I walked out of the school at the end of 8th grade. The coat racks seemed lower on the wall, for one. I always remembered straining to reach the hooks as a kid.
The closing mass was held in the gym. My eyes drifted up to the clip on the ceiling that used to hold the rope that we had to climb – or at least try to climb – once a year. I never made it all the way to the top. (Darn. One thing on the bucket list that won’t be scratched off.) The gym still had the old school scoreboard in the corner.
At some point they added in a digital scoreboard, but my heart still belongs to the old clock that’d turn orange in the final few minutes of the basketball games.
The gym doubled as the auditorium for music concerts and, at least for the first couple years I was in school, the annual talent show. Yep, ladies and gentlemen, that right there is where I sang “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile” at the top of my little 2nd grade lungs.
I am still shocked that I didn’t win…or that I didn’t harm the hearing of those in attendance. Maybe that’s why they stopped having the talent shows…
After mass, a couple of my siblings joined me on a walk through the building. One of the classrooms had a US map that was from the 1960s. I think the school kept it because it actually had our town on it in those days. Population changes since then probably dropped our town off the New York state in current maps.
My one brother, John, is a very well-respected man. As a little kid, he was cute as a button – that’s him in a class picture that someone brought in:
As a middle schooler, he and his pals gave the nuns a run for their money on who was in control of the school. John was telling us about a particular incident in which they broke one of the floor tiles in the room.
Lo and behold…
There it was – 30 years and a whole lot of glue, floor wax, and administrators determined to keep costs down and the evidence of school boy shenanigans was still around.
I found other evidence of our family leaving a mark on the school. Poking out of a closet in one of the old convent rooms was a trophy that looked familiar. Upon closer look, I discovered it was the trophy my brother, Jim, and his team won at a basketball tournament.
Seeing the old, familiar names of families who were joined with us on our school journey made me feel a little melancholy. Where did they go? Did they know about the school closing? Were they as wistful as I was becoming with every room I entered?
One room that was particularly important for me to visit privately was the music room. In this room I had one of the most difficult moment of my life as a result of another classmate. I have spent much time – too much, honestly – trying to let it go as I grew older and came to make peace with it about seven years ago. Going back to that room was good for me. It gave me a chance to really release it all away.
In the cafeteria, where the reception was after mass, there was a statue of Mary that bore the signs of age and use. Her outstretched hands were tattered and broken.
Mary, I thought, you have worked very hard to keep this school together. Maybe it is time to let you rest.
And so, with that, we walked out the back doors. My Dad and Mom – who worked so hard and volunteered so often for the school while we were there and afterward – saying one last goodbye to the place that meant so much to us all.
The school is gone. The classrooms are empty. The books are packed away. But somethings live forever within the hearts of those they touched.