My daughter sent me a text yesterday. It said:
“Hey did u hear about the schoolhouse in Bristol?”
Immediately my heart felt heavy.
I responded no. She wrote back:
“It caught on fire and almost burnt down last night.”
I thought I was going to cry. It prompted so many emotions in me. This little no town, dip in the road, gathering of houses doesn’t have a lot. There’s no reason for anyone to go there, unless you have family there. The school house was the best “thing” about the place.
I was painting my living room, and I was alone. And it gave me time to go back. Back in to my own history. I played out so many visions in my head. For years we traveled to Bristol to spend countless weekends in an old, old, log cabin my great great greats built. On property that has been in the family for generations. That school house most likely has my ancestors sweat in the building of it. It certainly has the childhood ghosts of my grandmother and generations before her milling about.
My uncle has a picture of her as a young girl standing with the “class”. The picture also included her younger brother and sister. Right in front of the school house. As a child I would go there from the log house and sit on the merry go round that sat out there for at least a few decades. I’d sit there and imagine my grandmother as a child. Walking up the lane in her high top black shoes. Her humongous bow in her hair. I wondered if she loved school or hated it. I would picture her learning. I always thought of her as smart. And it occurred to me as a child that this building was the reason for that. It did not occur to me that additional schooling and life experience was part of her wisdom. It all stemmed from here when I was a child. I mean, she went to school like Laura Ingalls Wilder did! I looked at this picture and it took me to their world that I was so curious about:
As I stared at the building I could see where the original windows had been somewhat bricked in for replacement windows at some point. I stared at that building for hours and hours over my childhood years. There was even an outhouse there for years when I first became aware of the schoolhouse. I was amazed. But then again, there was still a hundred year old outhouse behind the log house we stayed in on the weekends.
The schoolhouse was used for community functions. Receptions, wedding parties, graduation parties. Square dances. My youngest daughter reminded me of watching my oldest daughter square dance and winning a pie. I had forgotten that one. That was the night the mom of one of her friends was sitting next to me and I sang a line from “Irene Good Night Irene” and she was impressed. I can hold a tune for one line, sometimes. Okay, rarely. But how many other out of tune songs were sung in there over the century or so it was used? I imagine the words of recited lessons. They play forever in that schoolhouse.
I remember the first time I actually got to go in the schoolhouse. Someone had left it unlocked. I went in. It was pretty empty. There was a lot of stuff done to it over the years. Except for what was probably the “coat room”. It was pale blue and white. And old. There were dead birds in there. And what appeared to be fifty five hundred years of dirt. But the old stuff lover in me…all I could see were the little kids coming in with mud or snow on their boots, stomping in there. Hanging coats and lunch pails if they had them. There was no way , now, to come in what was likely the front door then. It was barred and shut. But that little room ran the width of the school house. I could see the kids coming, the teacher ushering them in. I could imagine my grandmother (and those before her) trudging from the top of the lane towards the schoolhouse.
Maybe like most kids past and present they loved some school days. And dreaded others. I hoped the teachers in that school were nice. And instilled a love of learning. Not a fear of authority. I never knew enough to ask my grandmother these questions. I regret this.
So many times I sat on that merry go round. Alone. And wondered about life back then. When all that was needed was a one room school house. A teacher. And all of the brilliance that came forth from those little rooms and buildings that changed their worlds. The kids in those little buildings fought the civil war, the big WW’s and many other battles. They created the things we have now, that they did not have.
The schoolhouse was old. It was a reminder of something that was, something that is no longer needed. Our world thinks they have improved upon the one room schoolhouse concept, and the need it fulfilled.
I can’t help but wonder what we miss by not having them anymore.
As I continued painting I found myself picturing the way I thought life would have been lived back then. I couldn’t stop seeing the schoolhouse. I couldn’t help but be sad that it might be gone, or need to be demolished if it wasn’t already gone.
I always loved that it was there. Because I loved what it gave me to imagine. I loved that it held in the air the spoken word of all of those children. I could see where they sat and learned. I could see how a community used this place, and needed this place. I could imagine community as I would have liked to of been a part of it. It tied me to the past and I love the imaging of the past. I love the curiosity of the past. I love touching the past.
I love the history of my family. I love the history of our world. Our history has given us so much. I hate to lose any part of it that I perceived as good and solid.
I love what that little school house did for my imagination. For just being there and letting me touch a different world, a different time.
It’s just sad.