Childhood was a time of simplicity
No cares, no woes, no anxiety.
When the world was neat and good to all,
When the universe was a chart on our classroom wall.
Childhood was a time when we lived in dreams
Our future hidden, behind steel mill steam.
When everyone appeared to be our friend
We didn’t have to consider what would happen in the end.
Childhood was a time when life was full of colors
We’d all depend on our devoted mothers.
When sorrows never knocked at our doors
We didn’t need to be concerned of wars.
Childhood was a time when school was benign
When desks were wood and in a straight line.
There were no such things as obligations
No need to fear life’s regulations.
Childhood was a time which is now long gone.
All of our friends and family have all moved on.
Childhood will never come back we are told,
But we’ll all have the memories, until we grow old.
It seems that I managed to get stuck behind a school bus every day last week. In our area, school began for all of the schools on Monday, August 26th. As I sat watched the kids climb aboard the bus, I thought that they looked so tiny while trying to board the huge school bus.
I couldn’t help but think about those first few days of the school year when I attending Holy Name Grade School in Duquesne. Regardless of what grade I was in, I was immediately hit by the sensory impact of walking into the building After weeks and weeks of playing outside in the fresh(?) air, my nose was hit with the smell of fresh floor wax, oiled chalkboards, freshly wet-mopped wooden floors and the scent of Ivory soap from the nun’s meticulously scrubbed hands.
Week in and week out, the building always smelled clean. Between the good sisters and the dedicated custodian, they scrubbed, polished, and buffed our cathedral of learning to within an inch of its life!
I have written about Holy Name Grade School many times before, however I was reminded just how important those grade school years were to my life, to all of our lives recently. I was cleaning up the area around my front porch last week and came across 4 bricks that put an immediate smile on my face. I like to refer to them as “the bricks of my foundation.”
Back in 2005, while visiting relatives in Duquesne, I was headed down South 1st Street toward Grant Ave. when I came to a screeching halt in front of the Post Office. I was witnessing the demise of my childhood school. Just like the saying that I had heard so many times before, ”I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t turn away.” As I stood there on the sidewalk with my mouth gapping open, I watched as an enormous crane moved from side to side, swinging brutally at the building, until huge chunks of plaster and brick fell to the ground. Piece by piece, my own cathedral of learning was dismantled. The huge windows that once served as the canvas for our Christmas artwork clung to the structure, refusing to release their grip from the buildings framework. As the building’s back walls were completely eradicated and the individual classrooms lay bare for the world to see, remnants of desks, chalkboards and the glass block windows of the school hall were exposed.
I managed to work through the initial shock of what lay before me, and walked to the side of the remaining skeleton and decided to grab a tangible piece of my youth. A pile of bricks had fallen outside of the construction tape barrier that surrounded the school. I grabbed four bricks and sadly walked back to my car. I couldn’t watch any more. The 93 year old piece of Duquesne history met the same fate as the Duquesne Carneige Library did over 37 years earlier, reduced to rubble. I tossed the bricks into the back of my car, gave my alma mater one last glace and drove away just shaking my head.
Every trip I’ve made back to Duquesne since that day included a drive past the empty, barren plot of land where once stood Holy Name School. Nothing has been developed since it was torn down 8 years ago. Surrounding plots of land that were once occupied by other icons of my youth, such as Elsie’s Avenue News, Reed’s Insurance and Adler-Green’s suffered the same demise as Holy Name.
Despite the dismantling of my boyhood haunts, I still have those four bricks to serve as a reminder of the foundation of learning and life in general that they once were part of. The education that I received at Holy Name has stuck with me since childhood. Lessons imparted have been a part of my life since that time.
I’m reminded of a wonderful book that was published in 1989 by Robert Fulghum, titled ‘All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.’ In the book, the author explains how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children, i.e. sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after themselves, and living “a balanced life” of work, play, and learning.
I reviewed his list of “lessons learned” again, and soon realized how accurate his thoughts were. Combined with a few more “pearls of wisdom” that were within the lessons imparted to us at Holy Name, they really were at the foundation of how I‘ve lived my life.
Allow me to share:
These are some of the things I learned in grade school:
• Play fair.
• Always remember that God, your mom and your dad love you.
• Don’t hit people, fighting is bad.
• Clean up your own mess.
• Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
• Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
• Eat your vegetables.
• Honesty is the best policy.
• Pay attention and follow directions.
• Take time to play a little even, when you’re learning.
• The greatest literary works in English and American literature were all created with the same 26 letters we learned in first grade.
• When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
• Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the paper cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
• Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the paper cup – they all die. So do we.
• Say your prayers.
• Love God and Country