Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Road Less Traveled - #1

It was about 8:30 this morning when I dragged myself up, made the coffee, and only then opened my eyes to discover that it was an absolutely gorgeous day in spite of the 30% chance of thunderstorms in the forecast when I turned in last night.  That put me at about 8:35 and at 8:36 the desire to ride somewhere kicked me hard in the behind.  I gulped my coffee, ran through the shower, and after I decided that it was indeed warm enough to venture out in shorts I dressed and hit the road.  Destination, Shickshinny, Pennsylvania.  Why there?  I haven't a clue; it was just the perfect day to do it.

Leaving the valley to either the north or south puts one on a road that runs more or less parallel to the Susquehanna River.  Today's escape led me south on US 11, a scenic ride with the river to my left and a well enough maintained stretch that's posted 55 mph once you're beyond residential areas.  My total ride ended after about 65 miles or so because I extended my ride for a good while beyond the stop in Shickshinny, but my longest stop along my three hour tour was right there.

U.S. 11 Near the former Retreat State Hospital, now an SCI facility

I knew I was going to make a phone call once I got to Shickshinny, but I wasn't sure where I should stop.  When I'm off the bike but plan to be somewhere for a while I prefer to find a bench, and I spied a beauty when I got to the corner of Main and Vine, alongside a gurgling creek.  I parked the scooter, headed for the bench, and started my call, but after a while I got a little restless in just sitting there and began walking over the bridge that spans the waterway.

On Main St.looking north up Shickshinny Creek

Standing there, watching and hearing the water splooshing over the rocks in the creek bed, and taking part in a most delightful conversation with someone very dear to me made me realize that my mood was better than it had been in months - possibly since late August of last year.  I might have taken to the air and clicked my heels if I were of the heel clicking sort or even if I could imagine myself in a moment of spontaneous heel clicking revelry not causing myself serious bodily harm.  Thus in recognizing my limits when it comes to expressing my mirth by way of physical expression, I merely smiled broadly and soaked in the joy of the moment in the realization that I was out enjoying a ride - really savoring it as I did the rides I wrote about here before my long lapse in posting - as I hadn't in almost two years.

As I stood there with the sun as brightly shining in my heart as it was on my forearms (which are now quite red and sore with sunburn) I spied down the length of Vine St. an older looking building with a small steeple atop it.  When I mentioned it in the course of my conversation that it kind of reminded me of a stately structure that the locals might call "Old Main" on a century old college campus I laughed heartily when it was suggested that perhaps it was The Shickshinny College of Taxidermy because there are a number of taxidermists in that area which is basically a blip on the map.  Not that taxidermy isn't a noble profession, but I can't picture any such studio outside a horror movie.  (I'll rein myself in here before beginning a major digression.)

Curiosity got the best of me, so when my conversation ended, I fired up the Piaggio and scootered down to the end of Vine St.  There I discovered the F. L. Garrison Memorial School.  A touch of sadness came upon me when I recognized the telltale signs of it being a school no more and as I walked around out front I could see through some of the windows what appeared to be left over pieces of student art work still hanging inside.

A bit of research when I got back to the house revealed that the school had been built in the late 1930's from the legacy bequeathed to the town by Forrest Ludwig Garrison, a Shickshinny native who struck it rich in West Virginia in a coal deal, and then returned to the town of his youth upon his retirement.  The school, a high school, opened for the 1939-1940 school year and boasted Shickshinny's first auditorium and gymnasium.  In 1957 the school became an elementary school, and at the end of the school year in 2010, it closed its doors for good.

I find it difficult not to anthropomorphize old places that are shut down, especially school buildings that were once so alive with children's excited voices engaged in discovery, and learning, and the anticipations of special programs and holidays and best of all, summer vacations.  I pass just about daily the school in which I taught for 24 years which is now a school no more, and can barely look at it for fear of the heaviness of heart I know I'll feel in thinking of how it must "feel" in being abandoned.  Little did it "know" that when its graduates of the class of 2007 left that June it would never see its children again.  I felt a touch of that same sadness as I paused this morning on the steps of Garrison and considered how its own big heart must have broken when September rolled around three years ago and its kids didn't come back.

But it was a day for joy and not sadness so I shook off those thoughts and considered all of the wonderful things that probably happened there - school plays, and Christmas shows (back when they were allowed), and no doubt countless basketball games and school dances, and just the daily give and take between teachers and students that for many of us were years chock full of warm, happy, memorable moments.  And when I finally started the scooter back up and finished my tour of the grounds, I found this in the old schoolyard beyond the right side of the school.

My heart sang and I laughed out loud from the sheer joy I was feeling right then.  The joy of the day itself and the joy of knowing that Garrison had been the kind of school that the kids must have loved combined to nearly lift me off the ground in a non heel clicking sort of way.  There were hop scotch boards painted onto the schoolyard "floor" as well as shuffleboard courts.  I dare to think that if I'd listened well enough with my heart I might have heard generations of children's laughter and happiness still echoing from the very bricks of the building itself.

The school was bought at auction by a lady who wishes to remain anonymous my research told me, and she stated no plans that she might have for the structure.  I can only hope that she makes it into a place where the human spirit might be touched in some wonderful ways for more generations of people as I'm sure it was every day from September to June when Garrison's doors opened wide like loving arms to receive its children day after day for seventy years.

I'm glad that today was the day it was for me - that it was a perfect day to ride - that I choose to ride to Shickshinny.  Or, maybe - that I was led there by Somebody Who knew I really needed what I found there.

1 comment:

kz1000st said...

Here in Deposit we have such a school. It started out as the High School, became the Grammar school and then was abandoned and bought. Sadly the owner bought it for speculation and the discovered it was filled with asbestos that had to be removed. It sits lonely and empty in the center of town virtually unsellable and crumbling. I hope the building you discovered doesn't suffer the same fate.