It’s the first day of school. I thought about that as I went for my morning walk in the dark. (I miss the early sunrise of May-July.) I altered my route so that I went by almost all the public schools in town (sorry Forest Avenue) and I thought about how different this year is going to look.
I walked past Laning, where I went to school. Where my mother went to school. Where my son went to school. Where we met Frank Albano, the principal at the time, when we took my son to register in the spring and how he welcomed him to Laning. I remember his first day of kindergarten and all the kids lined up in the auditorium before the teachers led them to their classrooms. How my son was uneasy and a friend from up the block made faces at him to make him smile. I feel sad for those who won’t get this experience today.
I walked past F.N Brown with its expansive front lawn. There will be kids who run on that lawn today as some of the youngest (up to Grade 1) get to return to the physical classroom. But it won’t be the same. Their experience will be like none other than anyone who has entered those doors has.
I walked past the high school. The sign out in front, usually lit up with school news and information was dark. (Ok, there were two random lights on.) There is still construction material on the drive as the work continues and no students will roam the halls.
I walked past H.B. Whitehorne Middle School. The lights were on in the cafeteria, where no one will eat lunch today. As I walked by before 6 this morning, I saw a light on in one of the classrooms in the 6th grade annex. The light went off and then a light went on in one of the classrooms next to it, as one of the janitors made his way to open the windows. There will be no students, but there will be teachers. As I walked by he made his way from classroom to classroom, turning on lights, opening windows and then shutting the lights off as he proceeded to the next room.
Finally, I made a detour so that I could pass Brookdale before heading home. There was a blue light that glowed in the front hall of the building. I looked at the playground on the left side of the building. How many children had played there; how soon until they will be able to safely play there again?
I walked up Elmwood, passed the house that my maternal grandmother grew up in. She was a Verona High School graduate, the class of 1918. I suspect her mother, Ida Hoyt Smith who moved to Verona (before it was Verona) might have gone to school in the Verona vicinity. (It’s hard to tell since it wasn’t Verona yet.) My great-grandmother moved to Elmwood Road when she was 13 after the death of her father (her mother had died when she was 3) and lived with the Condit family. (Mrs. Condit was her half aunt; they shared a grandmother, Hannah Thomson Smith Hoyt Rafter–is that a mouthful or what?) I don’t have ANY stories about my great-grandmother’s schooling and life and very few stories from my grandmother about her life in early Verona. I wish I did. But I do remember that once when she walked to school (I think that would be the little red schoolhouse on Bloomfield Avenue that no longer exists) she saw a dead horse in the road. She ran back home, but her parents made her walk back to school.
A dead horse in the road isn’t something you’d see on Bloomfield Avenue these days. Children walking to school isn’t something you’ll see these days either. There are still crossing guards. (If I have a chance before the end of the day, I’m going to try and get out to see one because on a corner near me because Verona crossing guards are amazing and I miss them.) Hopefully by the time this school year comes to a close there will be lots of children, teens and parents walking to school. Hopefully before the end of this school year, teachers will be able to be in their classrooms teaching (safely) to their students in person. Hopefully before the end of this school year, we will be able to have something that resembles what we used to call normal.
Until then, let’s take a deep breath and accept that this is what we’ve got right now. Let’s try to be thankful for what we do have, even with all its imperfections and craziness. Let’s try to keep calm and encourage each other, our children and EVERYONE on the school staff and behind the scenes trying to make this school year a good one. (Or maybe just as good as it can be is enough?) Take a deep breath; it’s not going to be easy, but supporting one another, we can do this.
Beth Shorten is a life-long resident of Verona. For more than six years, she has been chronicling life here on her personal site, Bfth’s Boring Blog.