The crowd gathered outside Thompson Middle School in St. Charles, Illinois was mostly in their late 50s. Hands were shaken. Hugs doled out. Smiles of confidence and query mixed among the faces.
But what one noticed most was the eyes. The eyes never seem to change. Over forty years had passed since high school graduation. It was time to reunite and, just for kicks, take a tour through the old high school.
Newer facilities had long since been built. Referendums passed. Taxes rose. Two new high schools and additions later, the former St. Charles High School still stood, a bit forlorn in places, but with a shiny new entrance that was even air-conditioned.
Inside the school the tour guide showed off the new resource center and murals painted on the entrance hallway. Then the group was taken to the spot where the former front entrance to the school was built up into the ceiling. There were no lights on the old entrance, but there was a plexiglass portal through which one could see the archway. Glancing around, people were not sure whether this was something to be celebrated, or simply strange.
Inside the school not much had really changed. The bland brown brick that lined the hallways was still there untouched. No drywall had covered up the mood of the place. The wear and cracks and linoleum floors marked the passage of time. But there was more.
The former auditorium had been co-opted into the band classrooms. Yet there it was, another archway lofting up into the ceiling. This was almost like a theme. Or a meme.
Yet the classic aspects of school environs never really do seem to change. The tape coming up off the wooden gym floor. The peeling paint on old gymnasium benches. “This is where we spent a lot of time,” one former basketball player laughed while pointing at the bleachers where the scrubs perched their butts during games.
It all has a certain chemistry, but the passage of time is more like alchemy. It transforms some things but leaves others far behind to be considered. Did the magic formula of youthful enthusiasm actually work or not? Were we changed from the kids that roamed these halls? Were we much different from the children who roam those halls now?
It has been said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Which made some people laugh when a during a tour of the almost classically preserved chemistry room a classmate recalled a tragic result in which he had accidentally replaced a chemical in a large jar that was not supposed to mix with the new liquid involed. Whoom! The entire jar turned bright blue and the ingredients for the day’s experiment were instantly ruined and unavailable.
Another student recalled cheating on a genetics test by using a crib sheet tucked under his thigh. The teacher had put him out in the hall for a makeup test and it seemed like he could get away with a little cheating. But the teacher, a biology instructor and birding buddy of the student involved came up behind the guilty party and said, “Well, if it isn’t the furtive nutscratcher…”
The track stars recalled doing distance work in loops around the upstairs and downstairs hallways. That involved tearing down the stairs at high rates of speed in running shoes slick with dust. That would never, ever happen in most schools today. But it was how the indoor track season started in the 1970s.
Finally, the group paused by the upstairs lockers and people began recalling the placement of their own locker in the school. That brought up old girlfriends and boyfriends. You could almost feel the palpable presence of young love in the hallways by then. But you could also see the merit of long-term love and trust in the faces of all those standing together in their old high school. Almost everyone shared quiet stories of challenge and loss along the way. Some lost spouses. Many had lost parents. A person in the late 50s of their life on earth is often at the cusp of so much loss.
As the crew stepped our from the hot hallways of the old school a few looked a bit relieved. It was almost a tangible feeling on the order of “We made it…”
That’s what so many said that last day of the graduation ceremony. “We made it!”
The old school is proof of that, we must suppose. We bear cracks and wrinkles and signs of age just like the building in which our high school years had passed. But as one woman stated while looking at the aged clock on the wall, “It’s not even the right time.” Indeed. But then again, even a stopped clock is right once a day.
We stopped the clock for a few moments, just to take a look around. Time breathed in and time breathed out. Then we all went and had a few drinks. Because otherwise the second hand will hit you in the ass. Best to keep moving, wherever that takes you in this life.