I’m not sure what I was looking for by returning. It was years and years ago when I attended Frank B. Cooper school, kindergarten through 6th grade. But it was the school’s 100th anniversary and the building, now the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, where artists live and work, would be open for celebration and tours.
But why go? Was I hoping to run into childhood friends? (Maybe.) Did I hope to trigger memories that were no doubt bound up in those indescribable hallway sounds and smells? Warm sandwiches left in lockers, new shoes shuffling on heavy floors, recess bells? Whatever the reason, I made the trek to the old school on Delridge Way, and was met by that overpass, still standing, though empty and lonely of children.
I entered through the front and was welcomed by young greeters. Had I ever been there before they asked? (Um, yes, maybe 50 years ago?) There were other alumni visiting they said, and encouraged me to look around. I could take a tour of the artists quarters too if I liked. I did a bit of both.
Almost reverently I walked through the building, tracing steps from long ago till I found the stairs I’d climbed many times before.
It was 4th grade and I was with my best friend Joyce, the one with perfectly blond hair (she was Scandinavian and her hair was almost white, and sleek and straight.) We were debating who was the best, Paul Revere and the Raiders (her choice) or the Monkees (mine), when Miss Warner interrupted and told us to stop acting like monkeys. How we laughed at her words though I felt my group had been impugned.
There was the auditorium/lunch room where we bought hot lunches for 35 cents from smiling ladies wearing soft shoes, dressed in white aprons and hair nets. I loved the hamburgers where much of the meat was stretched with oatmeal; and who can forget the ice cream sandwiches? Weren’t they 12 cents?
We ate in the same room that served us up assemblies and Disney movies after school and where I stood on the stage and spoke a part in the Christmas program.
I visited the gym and wondered how we’d played ‘red rover’ and ‘soak out’ in such a small space. (Did they still play the game where we got people ‘out’ with the sting of a red rubber ball? I doubt it.) Somehow we even had room to square dance to ‘pistol packin’ mama’, a song I’m pretty sure is no longer welcomed on school grounds.
And who could forget the naughty kids being sent to the Principal’s Office where they sometimes got the paddle for their foolery?
Not me. I was an ‘office girl’ behind the desk, answering the phones with ‘Cooper School student speaking.’ (I guess I was destined to be in an office.)
I wandered the hallways for an hour or so, taking pictures and looking for memories and stories to tell, perhaps hoping for an epiphany. Or perhaps waiting to meet someone from the old days. Neither happened. Or did it? Maybe the old friends were there under gray hair and lined smiling faces? And maybe the stories were found but are still waiting to be told? We shall see.