Between the kindergarten/first grade building and the building that held the upper grades at Hazelwood Elementary, the school had constructed a walkway. A metal awning that ran over a concrete sidewalk. . . this way, none of the classes had to get wet on their way between buildings. The odd thing about this walk was that it took a 90 degree turn in the middle, a design feature that compensated for the fact that the doors to each building were offset from each other.
I have no earthly idea why I remember this space so vividly. I’m also not sure why, every time I think of it, that lie of a nursery rhyme about “sticks and stones” comes to mind. But it does. I can see my little self taking that bend in the sidewalk and thinking about that rhyme. Even then, knowing it was not true.
The stairs went down beside the church parking lot, just three or four of them into the darkness of the basement. Mary and I didn’t play down there. We spent our hours up in her attic bedroom with pieces of paper for school out on the balcony that connected her room to her brother’s.
But it’s these basement stairs that rise into my mind – the green and white awning over them, the murkiness of that dark alcove in the manse where Mary lived with her parents – my pastor and his wife, the odd association I have between my mom’s piano and that space, as if the piano had been stored there and somehow – miraculous given its size and the relative narrowness of the door – come out of there and into our living room.
I have memories of the rooms in these places, too – Mrs. Painter reading Where the Red Fern Grows to us as we sat at her feet in our 5th grade classroom, Mary and I watching New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in her tiny family room when we were 12 or 13, “Enough from the peanut gallery” coming from Mrs. Feitcher’s mouth in our elementary music class as we tortured the universe with our recorders. These are memories I can actively recall.
But it’s these transitional spaces, the images so sharp I could be placed blindfolded there today and walk safely through them, hands in pockets, it’s these that come unbidden, like the gift of snow in late March – unexpected, perhaps unwanted, but beautiful all the same.
We speak of transitions in writing as the things that get us from one important thing to the next, the things that tie the ideas together. “First.” “Then” “After” “Finally” Words we almost don’t read.
Maybe it’s the way we stitch these ideas together that matters. Or the way that we don’t.
So much memory tied to spaces that seemed only important in that they took me somewhere else. So much tangled living in the in-between.
At the other end of Hazelwood Elementary, a dark space connected two more buildings, Several concrete stairs up from the drive at the back where I caught the bus after school. A turn and then exactly 13 steps – I counted them at every passing – up to the cafeteria, where I threw away my expensive bionator while my parents were in China.
On these steps, maybe the 6 or 7th one, Benny handed me the first and only note I ever received like this. “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” It still makes my heart skip to think someone wrote ME that note. . . and handed it to me in the quiet of that stair between.
What do you make of the transitions in your life? In your writing?