Thursday, February 17, 2011

Elementary, My Dear Watson

No, I'm not talking about the Watson IBM computer system that has been playing Jeopardy so well. But that was the trigger for this post.

'Watson' in that instance, was Thomas Watson who turned IBM into what it is today. He was a revolutionary businessman, salesman and policy-maker. Of course, he's dead now, has been for a long time.

He doesn't look like a lot of fun, but then, neither do I.

But when I heard the name 'Watson', my mind jumped to the sound bite in the title of this post that was made famous by Sherlock Holmes.

You, the gentle reader, are probably already aware that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock's creator, never wrote such a line. Sherlock did once say, "Elementary", and he was talking to Watson, but that's about it.

That line became famous in the movies, where the actor who played Sherlock did speak it out loud.

So when I heard the line, my mind (such as it is) jumped to my elementary school in North Miami, Florida. For those of you with good memories, you will recall I wrote about William Jennings Bryan Elementary School once before back in my post from February 1, 2009.

The current building was completed in 1928, which in Elementary School years is well before the dawn of man. My daughter, who attended Burnside Elementary in Norristown, Pennsylvania lost her school to the wrecking ball.

In the Norristown Area School District Board of School Directors Regular Meeting of October 25, 2004, after congratulating themselves in the minutes declared the Burnside School should be demolished since 'the building is no longer necessary for District operations'. It had been closed since June 30, 1999. So much for history. Tear it all down.

Bryan, on the other hand, is still a living, active school even after 82 years which included hurricanes, wars, floods and famine. I can still walk the halls, I know because I just did.

There's been a school on that site since 1914. So what if the first one burned down? They just rebuilt it better than ever. And the originally named Arch Creek School was renamed in honor of William Jennings Bryan who ran for President three times and was Secretary of State and a Congressman. He may be most famous for serving as council in the Scopes Trial, the 'Monkey Trial' of evolution fame.

Bryan had a winter home in Miami, so I guess he was a popular local figure. He was almost President three times, but no one knows who he is today. We should bear that in mind when considering our own lives.

Here's a photo of his winter home, it sort of looks like the school a little if you squint.

Originally, the school operated with eight grades and then you went on to 'high school' for the last four. By the time my brother and I went there, it was a true 'elementary' school, just the first six grades. I went there for the whole six.

My family lived down at the end of what was then a dead-end street and access to other kids was limited. And everyone can tell you that my brother was no fun, so I was very excited about going to school. I loved going to school, it was a world of books and writing and playing outside. The school was a sanctuary.

We could walk to school in about fifteen minutes if we followed the Florida East Coast (FEC) railroad tracks. I guess we were on the 'other' side of the tracks. Haaa! It's difficult to comprehend that we walked alone through what was essentially an open tract of wilderness. Five steps off the railroad tracks, and you were in raw Miami, untouched by human hands. Then, bang, you were on NW 125th. Street and the school was in sight.

Look how welcoming the front gate is! It looks like it's saying "Come in!" Or, alternatively, "I'm going to eat you!"

It was designed as a rectangle around a central courtyard with a fountain. And it's all still there.

You can see the hallways are all open air. This was Miami in the fifties, there was no 'air conditioning'. If you were hot, you sweat, deal with it. The classrooms had huge windows that had a hook on a lever at the top. When you wanted to open them (even little kids), you used a long wooden pole with a knob to fit into the hole, pull down and the whole huge window opened effortlessly. When the rain came (it's Miami, folks) we had to hurry to close them.

The hallways had red tile floors that were built to last, even under the crush of so many little feet. Yes, all still there.

The stairs were designed for little legs, so they had a lower riser and remarkably, they are still original equipment. How lucky am I that they built it so well? With the original steel cross-hatch protectors in place. These are the very ones I stepped on more than half a hundred years ago.

Of course, you can't forget that this is 2011, so some stranger can't just stumble into an elementary school and start wandering around. So, when I stopped in the last time I was in Miami, I went to the office and announced myself wondering if they were just going to take a shot at me.

But one of the office workers very kindly offered to escort me around, so she got me into the auditorium which was being renovated, but still had the "B" logo and curtain structure that I recalled. When I saw it, I remembered that I performed in several plays there. I had forgotten all about it, but whammo, it all came back!

Then she took me to the cafeteria which appeared smaller to me for some reason. Am I ... bigger?

As we were leaving, I asked her if she had ever been to the third floor. She looked at me funny and said, "No this is a two story building".

Knowing better, I took her to a door she didn't know was there and took her upstairs to the secret third floor. A million years ago, it was another small classroom, but now it's just a storage area. It was thick with dust and memories.

I can only imagine what she said to her co-workers when she went back to her desk. "Dude! You should see what I just saw!"

When I went back to my car, I noticed the trees that rimmed the school property. Back on Arbor Day in 1958, they came around and picked a half dozen kids from class, one from each grade, to help plant the trees and I was one of them. So, here's a photo of my legacy from April 25, 1958.

And I don't need Watson's ninety servers to remember it, either, just a couple of synapses. How about that!


Leah Kleylein said...

I actually remember my elementary school quite well, which is unusual since my brain seems to have dumped most childhood and adolescent memories in favor of knowing things like Henry I (allegedly) died from eating a surfeit of eels and that the favored style of haircut for men of the Regency period was "a la brutus".

Also, how cool that you acted in plays!! Do you remember what they were?

Rich said...

No, sorry, I don't remember the plays although I'm pretty certain they weren't the caliber of 'Pirates of Penzance'. I did play the lead in at least one of them where I played an older man with a mustache. How's that for foreshadowing?

Dave said...

Hey, what do mean I was no fun? Remember all the fights we used to have? I was entertaining you. This was a great piece Rich, brought back lots of memories of Bryan. I can still remember the words to the Bryan Day theme song - can you?

Rich said...

Dave - No, I remember Bryan Day very well, but not the song. We all ran around like lunatics, foot races and all and they gave us ribbons. Were the lyrics maybe "Hit 'em high, hit 'em low, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, ha cha cha!"??

Kettelene Philogene said...

Hi Rick,

LOVE this article and yes I am on WJB Alumni Facebook.....I will forever remembered and LOVE WJ Bryan. When ever I get chance, I still make the trip down there and post pictures. I have not met one person who was not impacted or didn't have something positive to say about WJB. Academic Excellence all the way!!

Kettelene c/o 92.