They can tear down the building, but not our memories

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By Kes Colbert

They tore our high school down. Now, that will frost your wheat cakes. Most of us were out of town when it happened. I have no idea who makes those kinds of decisions. I’m sure it had something to do with growth, progress and asbestos-free ceiling tile. I don’t believe anyone in our class got a vote in the deal.

I do wonder if they found the spit balls left over from Latin class when they razed the place. Bobby Brewer would wet those things up so much they would stick to the walls. He’d hit anything or anybody as soon as Miss Bouldin turned her back. We had umbrellas and galoshes. LaRenda Bradfield and Ruth Ann Wiley would get so mad but they wouldn’t turn us in. I don’t know how much “ero, eris, eritis” we learned but we all stuck together.

I wonder what they thought when they discovered the couch down in the boiler room. Buddy “found” it back stage in the auditorium after a senior class play. We were sophomores, as best I remember. We didn’t need someone else’s couch and, of course, the boiler room was off limits. It certainly made no sense which is why it was perfect. We almost broke our necks lugging that thing down those steep, narrow steps. One look around that basement and you realized why we had those fire drills so often.

We had no inkling back in 1959 when we entered the three-story edifice at the corner of Woodward and Bailey as “lowly” seventh graders. The high school had enough room back then for everyone. We were young and green and anxious. Graylene Lemonds thought changing classes would be the end of us all. I was a little scared myself but Larry Blackburn had made it and that gave us hope.

The place was 80 years past ancient when we moved in. The wooden floors creaked. The roof leaked. A few of the bathroom fixtures worked. The PA system had a built in warble. I never had a locker that actually closed. The pipes groaned. And, worst of all, it had no air conditioning. You’d never think a place like that could grow on you.

It marked so many beginnings and one or two endings. Of course, we had no way of knowing it at the time.

Miss Velna Gray Paschall would pass out those Weekly Readers and we’d “catch up” on the new Aswan Dam being built on the Nile. We learned that rice, wheat, barley and oats was the staple crops of every nation on earth. We read Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” and decided no one would name their son Pip. I got my first-ever school whipping. I wouldn’t dance with Pat Stone (or anyone else) in PE class.  

Most of our hardest studying was done leaning up against those metal rails lining the entrance on the parking lot side of the school. Me and Ricky, Squeaky, Yogi and John Ingram figured relentlessly on how to make all A's, be the hero in every sport and date all the pretty ninth and 10th graders. Naturally, we expected this to happen without having to study, practice or beg. Pretty ambitious plans for junior high guys.

By our ninth grade year we were old hands. We walked down the front hall without even a glance at the glass trophy case or the giant pictures with all the graduating classes adorning the walls. We were accustomed to the sounds echoing down the corridors and the particular smell that permeated the auditorium. We congregated between periods on the wide stairs leading to the second and third floors and caught up on the latest school gossip.

We looked up to and tried to emulate the guys ahead of us. We wanted to run the football like Bob Cassidy. I patterned my jump shot after Mike Ferigno. I appreciate to this day the time Wesley Beal, Deake Bradley, Joe Wilkerson and a host of other “older” guys took with me. We paid attention to how they managed school, athletics and dating. And we leaned against those metal guard rails and figured how to cut world history.  

Charlotte Melton liked me one day and was mad at me the next. Go figure. Jimmy Carter’s mom taught math. We were always after him to get a copy of the test for us. Science class was in a separate building. No school officials were going to turn Pam Collins loose with a Bunsen burner in that old fire trap. We marveled that the lunch room inevitably served “some type of greens” the day after Mr. Gallimore mowed the grass.

We grew into sophomores, juniors and seniors. Alice Reynolds was so quiet. Hollis Mayo would say anything. Squeaky used to sneak down the fire escape and bring back doughnuts. In biology, me and Bobby Jackson accidentally cut the leg off of Mr. Paschall’s favorite frog. I’ve never seen a man so mad. We sat through good, bad and ugly assembly programs. Miss Polly liked that Bill Shakespeare fellow a lot better than most of us did. We played endless games of match box football in study hall up on the third floor. We were in Mr. Arlie “Chuck” Berry’s class when we glanced out the window and saw a grownup from town dukeing it out with one of the students.

And many of us were in that third floor study hall in November of 1963 when Mr. Smith came on the loud speaker and shocked us with the news about President Kennedy.

Coach Givens got me out of English one day and led me down to the basement. He was a little concerned about the direction of the basketball team and, as a senior, he wanted some input from me. We sat on Buddy’s couch. I couldn’t hardly speak. I kept waiting for him to “wonder” what a couch was doing next to the boiler.

High school went faster than any of us imagined. And it was better than most of us let on. The old building held on for another 10 years after it got us safely through. I’m so thankful for it.

And they can’t tear down the memories.