All Original Written and some Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Hampton school! Wow! This aerial view is a surprise. When I attended it was just the 3 buildings on the left with the V shaped walk leading to the front door of the central one. None of the rest was there, and the entire area, those other buildings occupy now, was just a vast and empty vacant lot.
We used to stand out there at recess and trade cards. These were ordinary playing cards garnered from regular decks, flowers, scenery, stuff like that. The better ones had dogs or kittens, and my very best card bore the likeness of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. Innocent days… Oh by the way did I mention the fact that nearly every boy in school carried a 6” switchblade knife? Mine was black with silver trim. We stood around the “playground” playing a game called Mumbley Peg, or incessantly snapping a Yoyo up and down. My Yoyo was black too, with a silver stripe, and three rhinestones set in. Suddenly, I realize, it matched the switchblade knife.
Would you believe that looking at that aerial view could bring to life such memories? The first one that came back to me, I’ll share with you.
When I was in the third grade, my mother would drive me to school, and then pick me up again, at the end of what was an 8 hour day. In grade school, there were no half days.
One morning, she let me out, as usual, on the sidewalk in front of the school. All the students gathered there, waiting for the principal to send the American flag up the flagpole with great ceremony, and then, after we pledged allegiance, unlock the big front doors. Somehow, that day, while waiting, I got into a fight with a girl, and I pushed her down. Looking at the aerial view you sent me, I can recall the exact place this happened, right there on the upper side of the V shaped walk.
She let out a dramatic scream and began to cry. Good Lord! What had I done? To this day, I don’t know what got into me. But off I ran…. And the strangest day of my young life began.
Guilt ridden and terrified, I wandered the unfamiliar neighborhood. My lunch, of course, was in a brown bag in my hand. No Way would I let go of that! Darting around, from one backyard to another, keeping off the sidewalks, and always staying out of sight, I passed a day that seemed like an eternity. Everything was frightening and grew more so as I went from fear of being seen to the realization that I was utterly alone. There was not another living soul to see me, as I furtively crossed streets, and ate my lunch, while hiding in the bushes. It consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, without the usual bottle of lukewarm milk the school always supplied. As the day wore on, I became more and more divorced from reality, wandering, as in a dream. It was about then that I wet my pants, because I was too scared to pee. Although it was a warm day in late spring, the wee-wee running down my leg was warmer still. And it began to sting. How humiliating!
Then something very strange happened, something that for, perhaps, deep seated reasons, had a profound effect on me. Entering a new back yard, I came upon a house with a large picture window, and there, in the darkened room beyond it, was an enormous Christmas tree. I stood and stared at it for a long time, realizing it was the wrong time of year, almost summer. The needles were all brown and dead, and most of them had fallen, forming a brown halo on the floor around it. But, nonetheless, the tree was fully decorated. Its nearly naked branches were drooping from the weight of mirrored balls and silver garlands. And every twig was neatly hung with heavy leaden tinsel. Each sparkling strand reflected the sunlight that entered the window from behind me, and twinkled back at me, like a thousand tiny stars.
I realized that this, too, like the awful act I had committed on the V shaped walkway, must remain my secret, for I could never speak about the one, without revealing the other. And so, I never told anyone, until many years later. But I often pondered the mystery of that Christmas tree. Eventually, it was forgotten, forgotten, until now.
When my Mother arrived, little Melvyn was standing by the curb, as he would be on any other day. Nothing was said. She didn't smell a rat, nor did she smell the wee-wee. Miraculously, the incident in front of the school had no repercussions either. As I had never entered the school, that day, nobody missed me.