My daughter Frances, OHS Class of 2000, came home for Thanksgiving last week after not having been in her hometown for nearly five years. I asked her to be my “guest columnist” to share her thoughts about coming home for the holidays. I hope you enjoy her story.
“It was a blue, plaid jumper, a white Peter Pan-collared blouse and a navy cardigan with white embroidered letters. The ladylike cursive spelled out: “St. Mary’s,” and I loved every minute I spent in it.
From kindergarten to 8th grade I spent my days happily cardiganed and knee-socked, learning to tell time, and then spending it writing book reports and diagramming sentences. Having not set foot in the building since I graduated 15 years ago, I always see it like a clock forever stopped when the last bell rung.
But the clock only really stops in your head, and the world moves on.
Upon returning to Oneonta for Thanksgiving week I had no expectations of being able to enter my old school. But fate unexpectedly intervened in the form of a beloved teacher of mine, and my dad.
Mary Ann Hartmann, whom I adored years ago as she introduced us to the then-brave new world of computers, joined my dad in hatching a plan to get me inside the building. And suddenly I was not just looking at the beautiful front doorway, but passing through it, on my way inside.
I braced myself for a shock that never came. For walking up the first flight of stairs, I was walking on the exact same tiles that I had 20 years earlier. The walls wore the exact same carpeting, the lights fitted with the exact same fixtures. It was like walking into a time capsule, buried on my last day of 8th grade.
It was not just the location of so many steadfast memories, but the keeper of them as well. I showed Dad the Murphy bed-style lunch tables and benches, at rest and flat in their wall slots. I explained the scientific method we employed for setting them up at lunch time: You’d find the release lever at the bottom, then everyone STAND BACK as a 12-foot-long folding metal bench crashes to the ground.
In that gym I lost many games of kickball, won many rounds of dodgeball, and defended my honor in an epic Parents vs. Students spelling bee. I even beat my dad, a fact I remind him of when I feel appropriate. If it’s a strange thought that I would take a picture of myself standing on the exact spot where I put everyone else away with the word LACKADAISICAL when I was 10 ... then never mind, I didn’t do it!
I showed him the room that scared me to pieces when I was in 5th grade … the upstairs girls bathroom. There was a perpetually extinguished light bulb, a small but steep flight of stairs, and an always-locked mystery door that had to be passed. Ironically, one of the few doors unlocked this time was that one, and after so many years I finally got to peek inside the room the nightmares were made of, and take stock of its dark, pernicious contents — brooms and toilet paper.
Since we are now deep into the holiday season, I couldn’t help but see it all with that in mind. The bulletin boards of my 3rd grade classroom, pinned with overlapping turkey hands, hanging my Halloween costume on a coat hook that is much shorter than I ever remember it actually being, and of course, the Christmas tree.
Around Christmas, the gym became a hive of elfin activity, as we set up for the Christmas gift shop (many a candy cane wearing felt reindeer antlers were bought and given), concerts, and to decorate the largest tree the room could accommodate. It stood in the corner, and I am still sentimental thinking about the sweetness of the tree-trimming hierarchy. The youngest kinds handed over the ornaments to the older kids, who passed them to the oldest, perched on the ladders around the tree, hanging them on the branches they could reach.
I had a few things on my Must-Do list for this holiday hometown trip to Oneonta. Happily they are all still here. The wonderfully invigorated downtown. The memorable cold cheese pizza at Sal’s. St. Mary’s. The Fly Creek Cider Mill. All of these “friendly ghosts” from my past (and many others) welcomed me home with open arms. And that was nice. Happy Holidays Oneonta.”
My Dad says he’ll catch you in two ...
“Big Chuck” D’IMPERIO can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his “Oldies Jukebox Show.” You can find “Big Chuck” on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at email@example.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.