Back to School

Merion Elementary School.  Traditional-looking school, blue skies and kids getting on the yellow school bus: this looks like a quintessential scene played out through suburban America

Merion Elementary School. Traditional-looking school, blue skies and kids getting on the yellow school bus: this looks like a quintessential scene set in suburban America. Oh wait… it is!

Dale and I visiting our elementary alma mater, Merion Elementary School, on October 16, 2012.  And like other sites we went to, this wasn’t a drive by but a walk-around-and-get-a-sense of the place.  Our visit took place near the end of the school day, and

the back field of Merion Elementary.

The back field of Merion Elementary.

we walked around the school, looking at the huge field to the left as well as behind.  I saw myself as a young kid on the monkey bars in the (rebuilt: much safter) playground in the distant. I saw myself running down the small hill that separated the sports field from the upper playground area.  And then we walked to the back field that stretched all the way to Narberth.  Moms started arriving,

Sixth grade school friends gathered in the back field of Merion Elementary, circa 1970.

We here here once! Sixth grade school friends gathered in the back field of Merion Elementary, circa 1970. From left Brad Farquar, David Fink, Lydia Yingling, Lee Slap and Steve Patterson.

meeting their kids and Dale and I felt a bit like outsiders?  What were we doing here? Not only were our years at this school many years before, our own kids are long past elementary school age.  The next time we’ll be spending this much time at an elementary school is with our grandchildren at their school play or something.

It all comes back though, and the years both disappear and show their distance.  We move to the front of the school, and sit on a curb watching the kids charge out of school at the end of the day, meeting their moms (still largely moms) or their school buses.  This was once us: our whole world revolved around this school and the friends we met there.  How could another world exist anywhere else?  New things getting discovered everyday – new realities emerging.  It

The main entrance to Merion Elementary School hasn't changed since Dale and I went there in the 1960s.

The main entrance to Merion Elementary School hasn’t changed since Dale and I went there in the 1960s.

was all emerging.  The beauty of being young is discovering everything for the first time.  I look up at the entry way of the school and think back to my own school dismissals at the end of the day.  How we would wait inside on the rows of stairs if it was raining or snowing.  The school bus ride home where home life would be a continuation of school life.  Meeting with different friends after school.  Elementary school bleeds into Jr. high where friendships become cemented and new discoveries are made.

How lucky we were as kids.  Here we were in Merion, Pennsylvania, living just a few blocks from City Line, separating Lower Merion from West Philadelphia, but living a world away.  Though our twin-home on Upland Road had to be one of the most modest in this rich suburb (spending time in Merion on this recent visit, seeing some of the huge manor-like homes, Dale and I remarked how we easily were in the 1%), as kids we were oblivious.  As an educator I’m aware of that kids need space (though kids will make the best of almost any situation).  Merion Elementary has a lot of space, and walking around the school 42 years after I graduated, it all still felt large. Kids there have many, many possibilities.

All in the family: William P. Mann school in Wynnefield, where I went for kindergarten and both my parents attended.

All in the family: William B. Mann Public School in Wynnefield, where I went for kindergarten and both my parents attended.

If one had to make a snap judgement, Mann school doesn’t show the same promise to a visitor.  It’s only a few miles away, but it’s in a fairly beaten-down stretch of 54th Street that winds through West Philadelphia.  Though the above shot shows the school seemingly surrounded by trees, it is in the middle of an inner-city block.  There’s a lot of history here, because not only did I go here (at least for kindergarten) but many other relatives as well (I’m sure).  I look back on my kindergarten class picture and see a mixture of different races presented, much different than the lily-white make-up of Merion Elementary.  My schooling began here; I didn’t go to a nursery school (was pre-K even a term back then)?

Bebber Middle School, where both my parents went (many years apart)

Bebber Middle School, where both my parents went (many years apart).  You can see Abbie, Michael, Dale and Robin heading into the school to check it out.

As mentioned in previous posts, some of these key visits took place on what would have been mom’s 74th birthday.  Abbie, Michael, Dale, Robin, and I drove up to Beeber Middle School in Wynnefield, and I was quick to get out of the car and take pictures.  I walked up to the steps to photograph, but stopped because there were two guys sitting

Mom on the same steps on the day of her Jr. High graduation, June 1953

Mom on the same steps on the day of her Jr. High graduation, June 1953.  The columns still stand, but the brown doors are now painted red.

there.  I couldn’t just take the picture with them in it.  I explained the project, and how today was my mom’s birthday and instead of visiting a cemetery we are here, at the middle school she attended in the min-1950s to honor her, to pay tribute to her.  They were interested in the story, and as everyone left the car to join me, they ushered us inside to check out the school.  Abbie had attended Beeber nine years

Mom Mom Ruth on the same steps at mom's graduation June 1953.

Mom Mom Ruth on the same steps at mom’s graduation June 1953.

after mom, and he had never been back inside.  I waited outside, wanting to get a feel for the place, for the street, wanting to soak in the environment.  And I was thinking about the slides, two of them pictured to the left, that I recently came across going through old family pictures.  It is a gratifying feeling that places still remain, though people are gone.  And I know that this is a lucky feeling; for many folks, their places are gone, whether by bulldozer, fire, or hurricane.  It felt tremendous to stand at the steps of Beeber with my family and feel connected to those who aren’t here physically but are always with us.

Overbrook High School stands almost as an island in West Philadelpha.

Overbrook High School stands almost as an island in West Philadelpha.

I don’t mean to get dramatic here, but If not for Overbrook High School, I would not exist.  Dale wouldn’t exist.  Robin wouldn’t either.  Drew, Michael, and Gail would probably be married to other people and would never know each other.  Geoff, Alli, Jake, Kevin, Emily, Carlie???  Not a chance guys.  I don’t mean to get all Back-to-the-Future on you, but if not for dad deciding to be a substitute teacher at Overbrook, nothing else would exist.

Dad is a substitute teacher at Overbrook and mom is a senior and he is instantly smitten.  He is seven years her senior, but that made no difference.  He found the one.

Dad as a senior, culled from the 1949 Overbrook High School yearbook

Dad as a senior, culled from the 1949 Overbrook High School yearbook.  I love the last line: he hadn’t changed throughout the years.

He was a student here years earlier, and was here working trying to earn some money while attending law school.  He had graduated Temple University, but never strayed for.  Worked at bingo joints in Atlantic City in the summers.  Lived at hom at 1771 Georges Lane in Wynnefield, about a half an hour hike to get to high school back in the day.  He had always lived at home – such was life in the 1950s (he would only leave after he and mom were married – the same with mom).

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