I will always remember my days of middle school with a certain fondness. Things seemed so much simpler then, and the problems of the world and life in general were completely unknown to me. What is probably the most strange, however, is that I never felt like a child at the time. In my mind, I was an adult.
I don't know if any of you can identify with this feeling. It was a feeling of being somewhat removed from childhood, while still being part of it. Normal recess activities would pass me by, and while I often participated in them I was always more interested in getting back to completing the school day. The goofy shenanigans that most kids participated in held no appeal to me. I've often had thoughts that perhaps I was born in the wrong generation, or that childhood simply wasn't designed for individuals such as myself. Looking back now I know that these thoughts are crazy. I was indeed a child back then, and surely did my share of foolish things. But even today, I've always taken a sort of pride in being different from my larger group of peers.
I attended Summersville School in Summersville, IL, a small K-8 public school with a red brick exterior and bright red doors. You can see it in the picture above. I spent quite a bit of time sitting by the window to the right after school, studying and waiting to be picked up. I would be teased by my science teacher, Mr. Clark, about how long I waited there...he once was kind enough to offer to get me a cot or sleeping bag. It was here at this school that I realized what an impact a teacher can have in students' lives.
The teachers here sincerely cared about each of their students. Whether it was spending an extra minute to help someone with a problem after class, or engaging the students with fun and educational games, it was clear that they wanted the absolute best for us kids. I took it for granted at the time, but it's quite amazing to reflect now on how those teachers shaped our lives.
I can remember the cafeteria quite well. I remember it as a large bright room, the fluorescent lights turned up full blast and the cool AC running hard to catch up with the hot days of late spring and early summer. A line would form around the left side of the room for the infamous "hot lunches". I was often a hot lunch kid, very rarely bringing my own lunch. Yes, it was foolish, and I shudder now to think about what the actual ingredients were of those mystery foods I was ingesting. Pizza is one of the most memorable meals...a large rectangular slab of pizza pulled off of a rack and sliced into smaller rectangles, which then were deposited on our trays. A puddle of grease rested underneath each slice, and the unknown meat on top served as a poor substitute for sausage. For some reason, it seemed that everyone in the cafeteria wanted one of these treasured lunches even more than the homemade brown bags that their mothers had slaved over. If we only knew.
I remember my social studies room, and the huge world map that was plastered on the left wall. Mr Miller, our social studies teacher, went over to the map one day and showed us where Hong Kong was. He then told us that Hong Kong had just become sovereign (a part of China) and was no longer part of the British Empire. This was my earliest exposure to politics and current events in a classroom, and I am thankful to this day for Mr. Miller introducing me to history and the larger world. It was in that room that he opened the eyes of students to a world so much bigger and more complex that our town, our state, our country.
I remember the music room, choosing the trombone as my instrument of choice and soon regretting it. I remember dropping the slide of the trombone at a concert and hearing it clatter to the ground. I remember the patience and good humor of our music teacher, Mr. Pfifer, as he took us through a sheet of music. To us they were only black marks and lines on a page...to him, they were living things that jumped out and grabbed you by the ears and the heart. He conducted us in that small carpeted room no differently than if we were the Royal Philharmonic, with deep passion and precision. His white hair became disheveled as he swiped at the air with his baton, as if attacking some invisible enemy. His white beard gave him a somewhat stern look at times, but he would then tell a joke and that serious demeanor would vanish. It was in that room that I heard music with new ears.
There are many other moments, many other rooms, and many other people. I'm thankful for my experiences in Summersville...as hazy in my mind as they are now, I know that they've been essential in making me who I am.