Distant Memories and a Forgotten School

I think it’s safe to say we all remember our first school.

Here in the United States, we call them Elementary Schools. We have Elementary, Junior High, and High School. Maybe they’re the same around the world, I haven’t looked into it.

Regardless, we all remember our first school. We remember our first day of kindergarten, we remember the day at the playground we jumped from the swings higher than any of the other students, perfecting our “super hero” landings. (We used the phrase long before Deadpool. Oh no. I sound like a hipster…)

We remember school plays we took part in, friends we made. Sometimes, sadly, friends we lost. We remember spitball fights in cafeterias, and angers flaring on baseball diamonds. Watching “The Sandlot” the last week of school with the classroom windows open, summer flowing in, and the baseball diamonds beckoning us to come to them, teasing us with dreams of playing in the majors. It was around this time the Red Sox hat kind of became a fixture in my life.

We remember playgrounds where adventures were everywhere. Knights saving princesses from evil sorcerers, spies narrowly escaping capture, forts being overrun. We remember best friends being made by spit-shakes, bloodied noses from funnel ball, sliding down the tube slide the wrong way and your hair sticking up in all directions.

We don’t think too often on these memories, though. We’re adults now, right? What good do any of these memories do us now? And if you think about it, that’s kind of sad.

Every now and then, however, someone will think about these days. Memories of simpler times will sweep in and lift up our troubles for a few moments, and suddenly we want to go back to where they took place. Somehow, if we revisit this place of happiness (and sadness) we’ll re-capture a piece of ourselves we somehow lost along the way.

In larger cities, this isn’t so much of a problem. Many of the schools my dad attended in Dayton are still used, and are largely unchanged from when he was my age. The same can be said for mom, whose elementary and high school are still in use, and again, largely unchanged.

This becomes a little more difficult in small country towns, where buildings are sometimes older, and budgets are smaller. In Hillsboro, for example, all of the old school buildings that have housed several generations of students are gone, replaced by new buildings.

My first school was Buford Elementary School, located in Buford, Ohio.

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As a third grader would see it. Still not a great shot, so… Yeah. (Nikon F4, Nikon 35-70mm Nikkor, Fuji Provia 100, Nikon 81a filter)

Buford Elementary was originally built in 1890. I started going to school here in 1996. That means the school was 106 years old when I showed up. (Excellent math skills right there…)

In fact, a little digging brings up this photo from http://www.oldohioschools.com.

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Yeah. Not my photo here. (Image courtesy of oldohioschools.com)

This picture is actually of the back portion of the building. Also, not unsurprisingly, the most “haunted” part. If you believe in such things. Ironically, this is where our computer lab was. The oldest part of the school got the latest in technology. Ahh yes, the Oregon Trail on Windows 95. High tech.

I ended up leaving Buford in the third grade. The teacher was a terror, known county wide for terrorizing students. She had students that had mental breakdowns in her class, she was physically abusive of her students, myself included, and she was known to fail students she didn’t like. She retired not long after I left, but I was pulled out and sent to a Christian school.

Sadly, shortly after I left, Lynchburg schools chose to shut down Buford Elementary. Citing age and cost to maintain, they decided to spend several hundred thousand dollars to build a new building, one which took far longer to build than expected, and has been nothing more than a maintenance nightmare, but I digress.

This means the building would be abandoned. The community of Buford was handed the building, but Buford has maybe 500 people living there at any given time. They needed to find a way to save the building, and quickly.

They turned it into a park. There was a full blown playground, and the indoor ball court allowed kids to play basketball in the colder months, but that was the extent of use. Even worse, the state gave the community money to keep the building maintained, but only enough to basically keep the lights on.

The role of the building changed over time. Different sections were closed off and abandoned, starting with the (incredibly) creepy basement. Then the cafeteria. Then the 4th-7th graders classrooms, then the old library, the computer lab, the admin offices, and my second grade classroom.

Now the only used part of the building is the ball court/auditorium. It’s used as a county Opry, and it sees a lot of use as such. County musical talent makes a mighty fine-shindig twice a month, and the income helps keep, at least the front portion, standing and in decent condition.

The abandoned bits, the playground, and the two baseball diamonds, however, are relics from a time gone by. In fact, one of the diamonds was sold to a farmer, who know plows it for wheat. At least he did this year. All that remains is a small chunk of the diamond fence structure, close to where home plate used to be.

When I first started going there, we had just received a new playground. Now there’s less than half of what used to be there. No more monkey bars. The swings are long gone. The outdoor basketball court is there, but there are no hoops, or backstands for that matter. I’m told two portable one’s are placed there at the beginning of June, but they weren’t there when I showed up.

Our dugouts on the diamond that’s still there are gone. One completely, the other a hollowed out, decaying pile of wood. Our concessions booth is sealed up tight, and covered in graffiti.

I’m only 25. I turn 26 in October. But standing there, walking the grounds of what was once a central figure in my life, and seeing just how badly it had slipped from grace…

I felt old. I felt worn out. Walking around the playground, I could still hear the sounds of kids playing tag, patty cake, jump rope, kick ball, and simple make believe. Parents cheered for the kid that just slammed a line drive towards third base, and booed when the ref called a bad play.

I can still hear kids scrambling to get in line to get back to class, when we, or at least I, was still excited about school. The sound of 15 diesel school busses idling in the parking lot, waiting to take kids home after a long day of learning. I can hear the long silent cafeteria bells calling students to lunch. Hopefully it was pizza, and not spinach.

I can hear parents shuffling into the auditorium to watch a school play, one in the fall, one at Christmas, at one in the spring. I remember fall festivals in the auditorium, full of games and candy and contests. My first school fair. We did science and history together, and I always chose history. I can hear kids setting up poster boards, freaking out because something is missing, judges asking questions.

I can hear friends talking about sleepovers, and kids FAR too young to even be thinking about such things, saying they were boyfriend and girlfriend.

I can still hear all of these things, but they’re so very far away. Some of the memories are very sad; some of my friends from these days have already passed on, leaving holes in just about anyone who knew them.

So this is the monument to these memories, I guess. A photographer’s attempt to capture as many as he could, and to share them with you, whoever you are, so that you’ll know a bit more about me, and hopefully be prompted to look back into your own childhood, at your first school. Maybe you can still go back to it. Take a day off and do that if you can. Put your adult worries aside for a moment, and go walk a path of memories. Sometimes, when you’re a little lost in these insane lives we live as adults, and feel weary and without the bravery of a little kid, walking in your footsteps of when you were a little kid can re-invigorate you, and bring back some of that youthful spirit of awe and excitement at everything that comes your way.

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Back of Buford from the top of the playground. (Kodak 400 Tri-X)

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Back of Buford from the ground. (Fuji Provia 100)

At this point, you’ll probably notice that the building is in a bad way as far as paint goes. The paint is peeling off the building very badly in the back and side nearest the playground.

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Though some of the neighborhood kids seem to have turned the wall into an art display. (Fuji Provia 100)

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Back of Buford again. Vandalls have kicked in two of three sets of windows to what was the cafeteria. (Kodak Ultra Max 400)

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Speaking of the cafeteria, this is pretty much all that’s left. Hard to believe that just 15, 16 years ago, kids would have been eating right there. (Ilford 400)

I was half tempted to climb into the building and see what could be seen, but thought better of it. I’d left my fedora at home, and there was evidence that I wouldn’t be the only visitor that day.

I decided to check out the hallway that led to my second grade classroom. This is what I found.

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All that’s left is dust and echoes. The door that’s open is the door to my second grade classroom. I shot this through a glass door. (Ilford 400)

At this point, I didn’t really want to look in the building anymore. So I spent some time around the playground. This was less depressing, and brought back some happy memories.

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This was my view from when I played little league baseball. (Fuji Provia 100)

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I couldn’t resist touching this base. (Ilford 400)

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Aside from home plate, the other bases are gone. So is the pitcher’s mound. (Ilford 400)

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Sunflared home plate. (Fuji Provia 100)

The dugouts are in worse shape.

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This diamond had two dugouts. One is gone, nothing left but the entrance through the fence. This was home team dugout because it was bigger. (Fuji Provia)

Where dugout “1” was.

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The wood post and grassy area mark where the first dugout once stood. (Kodak Ultra Max 400)

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Ilford 400

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Ilford 400

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So much for the boys of summer. (Ilford 400)

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Ilford 400

Still, it could be worse.

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I remember. (Ilford 400)

This is all that’s left of diamond #2. The poles used to be part of the safety fence behind home place. Sold off some number of years ago to a local farmer, this is all that is left of the first diamond I ever hit a baseball at.

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The overgrown grandstands on the home team’s side of diamond “1.” (Ilford 400)

After being around the diamond, I hit up the playground.

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I remember when this sign was first placed there. (Ilford 400)

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The playground was a memorial to a young boy that had passed on before I started going to Buford.

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Ilford 400

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Under the playground used to be fresh woodchips. Every year, new wood chips. They smelled so good. (Kodak Ultra Max 400)

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Titanic’s helm. (Ilford 400)

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Bridge of Titanic/Enterprise (Ilford 400)

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The Helm. (Ilford 400)

Remember when Titanic first came out? So do I. I was the history buff in class, and I knew everything there was to know about Titanic.

So obsessed with the movie was my class that we literally acted it out, ad nauseum, here on the playground.

Of course, we also had Star Trek, which for some reason, many of the kids in my class (myself included) were obsessed with. The plastic dome up top reminded us of the bridge of the Enterprise-D, so there was also a lot of Star Trek make believe.

‘Course, it also just functioned as a castle sometimes.

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There under the floor we used to dig a giant hole in the wood chips. We’d use it as a fort, especially in the winter time. The teachers weren’t so happy about it, but they let us anyway. (Ilford 400)

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You would cross those monkey bars to get to the top of the slide, where I’m standing now. (I didn’t use to monkey bars. I teleported. Ilford 400)

There was also a slide rail that was a huge amount of fun.You can see it on the far left. You used to run at it, as fast as you good, then jump, grab the handle, and slide down the rail at a pretty good clip, then the rail would stop at the end of the track, and you would be thrown (or hurt your arms if you tried to hang on) into the fray of kids running and screaming.

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The slide rail.

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It’s not very long now, but when I was 9, it may as well have been a mile.

The slide rail allowed for quite a few James Bond re-enactments.

Then there was the Funnel Ball. Ah yes. Good times. And bloody noses.

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Fuji Provia 100

Then there’s the old concession stand. It’s been abandoned for years. But…

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The concession stands abandonment has not stopped town romance… (Ilford 400)

And then, there’s what’s left of the swings.

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The wood outlines where the swings were. (Ilford 400)

The swings were removed years ago, apparently. A girl was swinging on them and years of no maintenance took their toll. A chain broke and she needed to go to the hospital. Now all that’s left is the sand box they stood in.

Where I decided to leave a final message.

Anyone who knows me knows I love my movies. I watch so many movies it isn’t even funny. One of my favorites is “The Last of the Mohicans.”

Towards the end of the film, Chingachcook, the last of the Mohicans, is standing with his adopted son and the girl they saved from the Huron, overlooking a mountain range. He utters these last words before the movie ends:

“And new people will come, work, struggle. Some will make their life. But once, we were here.”

I grabbed a stick, and changed it a bit.

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“Many will come, but once, we were here. Buford ’98” (Kodak Ultra Max 400)

I decided then to leave. I had gotten everything I thought I could, and was frankly confused. I was glad to come back and relive some of the memories, but I was depressed that one day, all this would be gone. And it might not even take another decade. Then all that will be left of this school are the memories people have, and the photos that have been taken. A day will come when no one will remember having gone to school here. And then another day will come when no one will remember the building.

I started walking towards the center of town where there’s a gas station. I was thirsty, and needed a drink. Walking towards the school was a group of kids, and low and behold… They had baseball gear. Helmets, bats, balls… And then they started walking through the parking lot, heading right for the last diamond. I snapped this picture…

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Kids going to the diamond.

It’s a crappy shot, but it makes me happy. These kids are using my diamond! Maybe this means the place might be around for a bit more than a decade.

And that’s it. I know many of these are crappy shots, but after a few minutes there, making artsy shots became a bit tricky, and stopped being the point, I guess. I guess… Just documenting some memories became the whole point.

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