Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Elementary Echos


One windy day in October, I visited what had been my elementary school. As I walked through the halls I raced through as a child, my footsteps echoed and the wind pushed something around just out of sight.  I was surprised to find the school still standing.  North Palm Beach Elementary is scheduled to be demolished so that a new technologically advanced school can rise out of the ashes by 2014.

As I walked down halls and peered in windows, I tried to remember what it had been like. What I had been like before life accelerated way past worrying about who I would sit next to at lunch. I had spent several years of my life here. The graduates I know are doctors, lawyers, magistrates, homemakers, secretaries, policeman, teachers, parents, artists and writers.  

Cafetorium Extraordinarium
It was 1965. Toward the end of the summer, children all over North Palm Beach met in the combination cafeteria/auditorium known as a “cafetorium,” to buy large paper sacks of school supplies from the Parent Teacher Association. The PTA charged $5.00 per sack to provide everything we’d need and it was heavenly looking at all the interesting things I’d be using in the coming year.

My memories start at first grade—Mrs. Atherton was my teacher. We sat in wooden chairs at tables and wrote furiously in workbooks that told the story of Dick and Jane and their dog, Spot. We took their lives seriously as we labored over each letter. “Run, Spot, run. See Spot run. Dick and Jane see Spot run.

Physical Education was held on sprawling fields that stretched to the north and west of the school in the days before any of us knew about s.p.f. “Red Rover, Red Rover, send Tommy right over!” With aching arms, sweaty bodies, pink noses and shoulders, we trudged exhausted back to the classrooms with our bobby socks colored gray by Florida sand around stickers that we invariably picked up from the weeds in the fields.  


We had orchestra and I attempted to learn how to play the cello. I have no idea why I didn’t choose a flute or something small, but I was very grateful that my friend Chip helped haul the cello to the curb when I had to take it home to practice. We’d wait for our rides under the melaleuca trees that lined Anchorage Drive, peeling the papery bark of the trees as we talked.

When I was at North Palm Elementary, Spring Carnival was held on the front lawn where the library was later built. We wore colored poster board cut in the shape of tulips, roses or daisies on our heads like masks with holes cut for our faces and ribbons holding them in place. We sang songs about spring and danced. 

Portions of the hanging ceiling
removed showing the high ceilings of old.
North Palm Beach Elementary went up in stages from the late 1950s until the 1970s. Gradually, portable classrooms started taking up the play fields to the north and then the portables themselves were replaced with buildings.   The school is going to disappear much more quickly. Plans are to pull down almost all of the buildings and remodel the two that will remain standing.  They’re replacing the cafetorium with a better facility—nicer cafeteria, more impressive stage.  I remember it as a big room with high ceilings where suspiciously, cafeteria ladies always served spinach on days the lawn was mowed.

I really do understand that the old school is out-of-date. Technology has raced ahead and the old buildings were built way before computers became small enough to fit in a phone. The price to retrofit must be way more than the cost to just tear down and re-build. Part of me, though, regrets that one day soon, I won’t be able to drive by and see how it’s changed. Unlike my father, whose school still stands as part of Old School Square in Delray Beach, mine will disappear.

Bittersweet, to be sure.

If you’re a graduate of North Palm Beach Elementary, it might be too late for one last visit by the time you read this. Demolition and clearing was scheduled to start in October. I’d driven by one last time to say goodbye.  As I walked out of the school for the last time, the sun slowly set over what was left of the play fields and the shadows crept further and further down the halls. The sound of my footsteps echoed against those walls I last touched at eleven years of age. 

This column originally appeared in Seabreeze Publications, Inc. as "North Palm Beach Elementary Echoes" on November, 2012.

UPDATE: I was by the school on November 3, 2012, and it was still standing. You may still have a chance to say goodbye.

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge

21 comments:

  1. It was my first school also Ruth

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    1. It was a great place to start out, I think. We were lucky :)

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    2. Hi Ruth-
      Thanks for sharing. I still remember Ms. Norrell (2nd grade) calling Mike Haugen a monkey and threatening to put him in a cage.
      -Tommybaker

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    3. LOL Can you imagine the lawsuit if that happened today?

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  2. Tamara Klorfein TasiniNovember 14, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    I loved NBP elementary. I remember going to Washington DC with the safety patrols.
    I remember looking forward to walking to school with my friends. I remember the library and reading
    all the biographies about famous women...Nancy Hanks, Molly Pitcher, Betsy Ross.
    I remember the playground and making "cootie catchers". I remember liking school and everyone
    was nice, I remember my favorite teacher Mrs. Saunders. She was strict but used to bring her popcorn popper to school and make multi colored popcorn which I thought was so cool,
    I remember watching movies in the cafeteria and Bob Newhart in commercials before the movie promoting AT&T. He was funny and dry even in those commercials.
    I remember liking the sloppy joes!

    It was a great school!

    PS I still see Mrs. Saunders at the NPB library and we have great adult conversatiions!

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    1. Remember how proud we were to wear our Brownie uniforms to school on meeting days? I remember Mrs. Saunders. I didn't have her as a teacher and I remember always being jealous of the multi-colored popcorn her classes got!

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    2. Tamara Klorfein TasiniNovember 14, 2012 at 10:18 PM

      I almost wrote about the Brownie uniforms too! Thought I was going on too long. I loved
      wearing those uniforms!!! So funny!

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    3. Never too long! I love hearing memories from others--especially those who were in the same time and place as I was. It's like seeing the same movie from a different angle :)

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    4. Tamara Klorfein TasiniNovember 15, 2012 at 8:10 AM

      I loved wearing my brownie uniform to school!!!

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  3. Well, I went to school on the other side of the country, but this could be my elementary school and memories. What a sweet trip down memory lane. They must've built all schools to resemble each other back then ~ that cafetorium looks identical to the one we played in during rainy days, and ate our lunches. Now I feel the need to travel to my hometown and visit my youth.

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    1. Tameri, I'll bet they all used the same architect! Hope your school stays intact, but take a camera on your next trip home, just in case :)

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  4. I didn't go to your school, but your post brought back memories of my first elementary school, South Side Elementary, in Reno, Nevada. The building is standing, but it has been converted into city offices, the school long gone. In a nostalgia trip to revisit sites from my childhood, I went searching for it, but it was unrecognizable at fires. All the old playground equipment gone, etc. Still, in the funny way that one's inner compass works, I "felt" I was standing near the grounds of the old school before I realized I was standing in front of it -- and it was so much smaller than I remembered, of course. :-) Thanks for jogging memories.

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    1. Elizabeth: Thanks for your comment and I'm glad my post brought back some good memories for you. It's amazing how much smaller everything is when we have the opportunity to go back, isn't it? I'm sorry to hear your school is no more, either :( Thank heavens for memories!

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  5. Wow, thank you for bringing back great memories! I remember having speech therapy in the back of a Volks Wagon van in the parking lot of the school, and the moms would help at lunch time if you needed anything you would hold up your hand and they would come over to see what they could do for you. I still live close by and had no idea they were tearing it down. I will have to drive by soon to see whats happening. Things seemed so simple and innocent back then. I miss that feeling that everybody was looking after you well-being.

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    1. Victoria: Thanks for your comments and I'm glad you saw them in time to say goodbye to the school.

      Ruth

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  6. Ruth: I attended NPB Elementary in the 70's, and your story brought back such great memories. Sloppy joes, maleluca trees, the library, cafetorium, Mrs. Saunders. Was Mr. Schott the principal when you were there? I remember that paddle hanging on his wall, and thankful it was never used on me. Growing up in NPB was certainly idillyc.Thanks for the memories and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays.

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    1. Cindy:

      Mr. Ouelette was the principal when I was there, but there were rumors of a paddle then, too! I think Mrs. Saunders was around then, too. Thank you for your comments and Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays to you, too!

      Ruth

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    2. I was there in the 70's when Mr. Schott was the principle also. Remember lining up to buy school supplies at the school store right outside the office? I used to love getting to work in that store in the mornings.What wonderful times!!

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    3. Thank you for your posting, MamaZ! We were lucky kids!

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  7. Oh my goodness Ruth you have brought up so many old memories and tears thinking of the old school being replaced. I started there in the middle of first grade, my first day I wore a dress and at P.E. we had to tumble I almost cried. Ms. Paul walking up and down the asle as we ate lunch with that ruler of her's, waiting to slap someone's hand. Your memory of the spinach was right on, everytime they cut the grass the next day we had spinach. Also the carnival's and the cake walk's in the cafetorium. Playing under that big tree on the playground and playing kick ball. Walking or riding my eight blocks to and from school everyday. Also being sick on my way to Washington D.C. with the patrols. Oh my goodness what memories of day's long gone. Tina Medero (Tina Pittman)

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    1. Tina: I had Mrs. Paul, but I think it was at Allamanda. I met her years later at a craft fair and she was as nice as she could be! I was sick on that safety patrol trip, too - wonder if North Palm and Allamanda were on the same one?

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