I was interviewed recently for New York Teacher, the newspaper of the United Federation of Teachers. At the outset, I warned the reporter that I had a kind of freakish memory for my elementary school years at P.S. 184 in Queens.
She found it interesting that I write for readers who are the ages I remember best. I found it interesting that I never before made that connection.
Tomorrow I’m heading home. I’ll be meeting with kids in kindergarten, first and second grade at my old school as part of the Association of American Publishers’ (AAP) Adopt-a-School Initiative to encourage literacy.
I want to peek in the cafeteria, where I never ate lunch but where my Brownies troop met after school. (I walked home for lunch every day–I know! And kids who brought lunch from home ate in the auditorium and had to be silent the whole time. During LUNCH. I know!)
I will have to stop into the library, which was always filled with Mrs. Fallon’s tea-rose scent. And the gym, home of a most unexpected and triumphant punchball home run that made me a much earlier pick–one of the first girls!– from then on when choosing teams.
I want to see if the schoolyard is still a huge mass of asphalt contained by chain-link fence and if the auditorium seats’ armrests have some weird kind of magnet in them that forces kids to wrestle for armrest control, because that’s how I remember it. It’s a tradition I have passed along to my children–with apologies to all who sit near us in theaters.
When I’m done at the school, I’ll drive by my house, the houses of old friends, too. Maybe I’ll take some pictures for my sisters. There’s sadness in this trip. Our mother died in this neighborhood. It’s probably why we don’t go back.
But our mother was a teacher. She was president of this school’s PTA. And a writer. She would love this. This chance to go back, to see it all again, and remember in that deeper way you do when you’re walking those same hallways, recalling your determination to never step on a crack–not only the ones that separated tiles, but the ones contained within each tile, too.
Facebook has reconnected me with many of my childhood friends. I feel an odd, fierce loyalty to these people–have always felt a strange, protective love and nostalgia for them and for that time, for all those times.
Tomorrow I’ll share my elementary school memories, introduce my new Queens friends to a buffalo, and find out what it’s like to go to P.S. 184Q in this millennium.
I’ll let you know how it goes.