but that’s my school: the mustang swan song


Dad called with the news. “They’re closing your school.”

“No. Sierra Gardens? What? Why? No!”

(Sorry, Bears, Trees and Bruins, not that other school of mine you love to hate.)

“They voted… it will close next year.”

“I’m sorry, that’s sad,” John said sincerely when I told him the news, “I still get sad when we drive by my old school.”

John’s long abandoned elementary school is for sure, totally haunted. Lincoln Elementary, brick and forlorn, sits abandoned on the main road in the small Idaho town of his childhood, still sporting a reader board that now says “ead to you ids 20 mins a day.”

John’s high school moved somewhere else too, leaving the hallowed halls he once roamed to become a rock climbing gym or self storage center, or possibly both.

John’s were those cool “inside” schools of John Hughes movies with real cafeterias and giant lockers for winter coats; cool to California kids who were stuck eating outside and with classrooms that opened directly into all that sunshine instead of echoey hallways that probably smelled like sweat and old paper.

During our 15 years of marriage, I had not been terribly sensitive to the fact that those pieces of John’s youth had been summarily shuttered.

Of course I don’t like that my school is closing. Opened in 1957, Sierra Gardens has weathered a lot. Think of all those little Mustangs talking about Nixon, Kennedy, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, and astronauts landing on the moon. We heard about the Challenger disaster in the middle of class, and worried about Russians parachuting down onto the playground, like in Red Dawn.

Whoever voted to close it obviously didn’t scamper down to the creek’s edge, play kickball in the lower flats, or Chinese jumprope outside Room 20.  They didn’t wonder why the basketball courts were always covered in seagulls or  taste Doritos for the first time at their 3rd grade desk. They didn’t learn to spell stuff there, and read stuff, and write cursive without really understanding why a capital cursive Q looks like a 2. They didn’t know which drinking fountains would give barely a trickle or shoot you straight in the eye. They didn’t learn they hate math and love writing and that Shel Silverstein was a genius. They didn’t have a principal with a handlebar mustache or a first grade teacher named Mrs. Beaver.  They didn’t get to be the Student Body Secretary or dutifully wear their Mustang T-Shirt on Spirit Day, or make the friends that I made there.  Nope; because if they did, Sierra Gardens would be getting a historical registry number instead.

My friend Doug wrote a bit in his blog about the liability of being too sentimental; something of which I am terribly, terribly guilty. I am an advocate for change and progress, but a big sap at the same time, which makes for a lot of confusing feelings.

So while I will miss you, I will never forget you Sierra Gardens, even when you are a rock climbing gym or a collection of old building shells with two haunted portables; and I look forward to tapping into my unending supply of your stories to bore my children, and their children, and their children’s children far into the future.

I will not miss the bathrooms though. The bathrooms were gross.

*That photo up there gives you a peek at one corner of Sierra Gardens, circa 1985. That’s me in the grey jacket and the extra bangs cut specifically to cover  my surprisingly normal looking ears. Mostly though, it’s my amazing, quirky, smart, kind, funny, talented class and group of friends from Room 20, whom I am very proud to know then and now. I guess just like a church isn’t the building, a school isn’t either.

12 thoughts on “but that’s my school: the mustang swan song

  1. Jody says:

    Oh my… so sad! Remember having to walk all the way to the presbyterian church for assemblies? Or eating lunch in the classrooms – that doesn’t happen any more.

  2. Stacie says:

    Love this! Did your bathrooms have the big round sink where you pushed a foot-bar to make the water sprinkle like a fountain? (Doug will be touched by the reference.)

  3. Barbara says:

    How sad. My brother and I took my nieces there the summer before last when we were visiting my dad. Love the comment about the principal with a handlebar mustache.

    • The Fulcrum Chronicles says:

      We still take the boys to play there too, and I point out every little thing. They have incredible patience with me. Oh my gosh, the handlebar mustache, and I didn’t even mention his PERM! You couldn’t make that stuff up.

  4. kcislander says:

    Really love your sense of humor and can relate completely to being overly sentimental — my husband and his family are perhaps the most guilty of this trait. Amusing and heartfelt at the same time.

  5. Jenn says:

    I totally understand! Four out of the seven schools I went to have closed down (Including my preschool). This summer I went home for the first time in 5 years, and I discovered there is a lovely little cul-de-sac with big houses where one of my schools once stood – definitely a surprise. Two of them have been torn down and are just empty lots, and the final one is I think used for offices or something… Reading your story and everyone’s comments reminded me of so much that I had forgotten. Anyways, thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  6. cupcakesandotherstuff says:

    What?! This is terrible news. I really don’t know what the world is coming to when things like this happen. RJUSD is obviously smoking some sort of… well you know… Long live 1981 when I too roamed the halls as a Mustang and had a teacher who wore pigtails and tied them with thick yarn.

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