“I don’t like it,” she said from the back seat. “That’s Mommy’s school. I don’t want them to take it down.”
Rylin is four and angry. I took her Saturday to see where workers have started the tear-down of Wellington’s oldest school, the oldest portions of which were raised 149 years ago as Union School.
The idea that brick and mortar can be that old is lost on Rylin, even though we took home a brick from the oldest part of the building. Nor can she understand the idea of nostalgia. She’s been inside the school a few times but not long enough to develop a personal attachment.
What exists in her mind is something more universal — a desire for permanence.
The world is a chaotic place, full of change for better and worse. It can be comforting to rely on those things that seem to never change, to be constant and steady reminders of where we came from.
I’ve been thinking about this, specifically with regard to school buildings, a lot the last few months. We’ve known for a long time that McCormick would be demolished, that it would be left a ghost. The same will likely soon be true of well-known schools in Amherst and Oberlin as educators there push for new construction amid mounting repair costs.
I’m a nomad. “New” makes sense to me.
My father was a preacher and my family moved every few years when I was a child, so I never felt a sense of community permanence. But I wanted it, badly — no matter where I went to school, I was always an outsider who hadn’t been there since kindergarten. I’ve often wondered what became of Lincoln or Windsor elementaries, Wiley Intermediate School, or Malone Middle School. Sometimes I even dream about walking through their hallways, but I suspect some have in the past 30 years become ghosts themselves. Progress.
My wife’s experience has been much different. She was raised in Wellington and attended the village schools from four to 18 — she even spent one summer working on a student maintenance crew at the old McCormick. Permanence was never a question for her. It is part of her identity.
There are benefits to both ways of growing up. My wife got stability. I got to reinvent myself every few years, washing clean childhood missteps and trying again at the next school.
I see communities weighing those seemingly opposing benefits, too. For example, voters in the Firelands school system just turned down a bond issue proposal that would pay for a new complex to replace South Amherst Middle School and Firelands High. Money was certainly in mind when those ballots were cast, but I suspect permanence was at heart.
It’s hard to say goodbye to the spaces that defined who we have become.
It’s OK to hold on tightly but sometimes we do have to let go. Nothing lasts forever — even memories.