Sunday, March 27, 2016

REMINISCING: I Went to Washington Hunt, part 1.

I went to Washington Hunt. I am a proud alumnus of that little, brick school from behind the hospital. Three out of four daughters were privileged enough to roam the halls of that old schoolhouse as students. Unfortunately, my youngest missed out, and all the girls were transferred to Roy B. Kelley on High Street. With the closing of Washington Hunt, the good, old days of neighborhood schools were effectively over, although that is a story for another day. I’m here to reminisce about the good times at the Rogers Avenue School.

When I started kindergarten on that warm, fall day in September, 1979, I had no idea that the others kids I met that day would be lifelong friends. Thirty-seven years later, I still count Ben Benedetti, Brian Stevens, Adam Wertman, and Joey Anderson among my group of friends. There have been moments that we get together and the laughs just don’t stop. There have been a couple times while at Mills that Brian and I laughed so hard we were both almost crying.

To this day, I can still remember almost all of my teachers there. I have questions about my first grade teacher. The class photo I have says her name was Mrs. Kunzmann, but I believe she was a long-term substitute for the actual teacher I was assigned at the start of the year.

Kindergarten Mrs. Gala
1st grade Mrs. Kunzmann
2nd grade Mrs. Xapsos
3rd grade Mrs. Veltman
4th grade Mrs. Dellaccio
5th grade Mrs. Cardone
6th grade Mrs. Moran

Of course, there were some favorites who I’m sure many of you will remember. Miss Calhoun was the gym teacher who lived right across the street on Rogers Avenue. Mr. Stefano was the art teacher. And who could ever forget Herb, the custodian? He was a great guy.

From the earliest days of kindergarten, all the way through the end of sixth grade, we walked to school everyday. It was very rare that we actually got rides to school. By my mother’s rules, there was only one way to walk home -- all the way down Harrison Avenue to Walnut and then home. When we got older, we would sneak down Massachusetts or Autumnvale to get home, but it was almost always Harrison for the walk home. One time in kindergarten my neighbor, Mark, walked me home down Massachusetts. He was trying to be a good older friend. Boy, did the two of us ever get in trouble for that walk home!

Those were the days that we had the opportunity to walk home for lunch. Since my mom didn’t work, I was one of those kids who occasionally went home. I’d run all the way home, down Massachusetts (shhh!--don’t tell my mother!), to have lunch each day at home. Then I’d run all the way back to the school. Sometimes on the way back I’d sneak over to the gift shop at the hospital.

We could get candy and soda at the gift shop. I think for those reasons alone we were not permitted to go there. Still, we’d try to sneak over once in awhile to get some treats. Some of us did it on the run back to school after lunch. Some brave souls would jump the fence during recess. Inevitably, some snitch would tell on us and we’d have to face the wrath of our respective teachers. Still, no matter how many times we were caught, we’d still take that illicit trip over the fence in the never-ending search for goodies.

Looking down the hall to the gym.
It was at Washington Hunt that I fell into really hard “like” for the first time. I liked this girl so much that I told her mother that we were getting married. When asked how I could support her daughter, I told her we could live in my parent’s basement until I was old enough to get a job and rent a place of our own. I had all the answers. That girl’s name? Shannon Salmeri. I have no idea what happened to her after she moved away in second grade, but if anyone knows her, tell her I said “hi.” I doubt she even remembers me, though. It was a long time ago.

Probably the best memory I have of going to school at Washington Hunt was the playground. That was one of the greatest playgrounds in the history of playgrounds. Of course, today we’ve gotten smarter about letting children play with or on dangerous things, so that grand old playground has since been replaced. We all survived the old one with minimal scarring to remind us of the good, old days.

Remember the tower of tractor tires that was the highlight of the playground? The higher on the tires you were, the more powerful you were. We used to jump off the top, if we dared, or hide inside the tires when they were dry. After it rained the tires were generally full of water, and sort of smelly after a couple days.

It's through teary eyes that it's time to go.
There used to be a pair of concrete culverts set up to be twin tunnels. Racing through them was always a cool adventure. These culverts were the one time I ever saw a kid get hurt on the playground. I remember someone with a bleeding head, but I have no idea who it was. It happened at lunch time. That’s about all I remember.

Speaking of playgrounds, it used to be a real treat when our gym class went across the street to Rogers Avenue Park. They had a basketball court, the taller slides, and the dreaded merry-go-round. I only say dreaded because, before and after school, it was an instrument of torture. The idea was to sit on the iron bars while a group of your so-called friends pushed the thing as fast as they could get it to go. And then they’d stand just inches from the spinning death machine, occasionally adding a little more speed as they saw fit. It’s a wonder none of us never died, especially small kids like me who had to hold on with all our might.

There are so many great stories about Washington Hunt that I’ve decided to make the story of my alma mater a two-parter. Join us next week when we discuss climbing ropes, field trips, and my debut on stage in the Washington Hunt cafetorium. I’m sure the suspense will keep you checking our website for an unexpected update. Maybe it will happen.

Next Week: I went to Washington Hunt, Part 2

Craig Bacon once accidentally really punched a friend while trying to fake a fight to impress a girl -- at Washington Hunt. He does even more stupid stuff on Twitter at @hippieboy73.