Commentary: Old buildings are keepers of our stories

When the bus pulled up in front we hurried off into that same piercing winter wind we had escaped 20 minutes earlier.

We quickly got to the double entry doors and opened them to a beehive of activity. The well worn floors in the long hallway were spit-shined. Along one wall the cast iron radiator crackled. Ah, but it was toasty warm and as we trudged up the righthand stairway a few steps creaked under foot. Suddenly, the loud bell rang out and everyone scurried to their appropriate rooms.

We quickly hung coats and hats and stowed galoshes in the back cloak closet and a few girls shimmied out of the flannel lined dungarees they’d worn under their dresses – remember ladies couldn’t wear britches!

Then a gentle quiet fell over the building as everyone settled down to the day’s duties. Even when the cafeteria or gymnasium bustled with hundreds of voices and footfalls and clatter, the classrooms remained orderly.

“Single file, don’t push, no talking”…as we’d go to the “dungeon” to watch a movie!

Then one day the lights went out, the halls became empty and the building fell silent. This very place where thousands had shared childhood memories, learned life lessons and told their stories was vandalized and broken and some people said, “Tear it down! It is dangerous, too costly, too far gone … we have no choice. Tear it down!”

But, one day a group of earnest folk decided to do the impossible and fix it up. They would make it safe and clean and glossy and purposeful and loved once more. Thank goodness, for that old schoolhouse on High Street is more than bricks and mortar and planks and nails; it is the keeper of our stories and the maker of new ones for generations to come unending.

Like the old grocery store down on Main where the smell of sweet and sour and coal oil and citrus went right up your nose and into your memory bank. It’s a scent I can’t really describe but years later when you get the same whiff it goes right to your heart strings.

Here is where shoppers paused to listen to the day’s news or maybe the latest fishing tale. Again. This was the place where Polly or Aunt Sue or you called to chat, ordered groceries to be delivered and charged them till the third of the month.

Or maybe you’d dodge into the dimly lit hole-in-the-wall next door during a downpour, count your change to make sure you had enough while the man radioed the driver to pick you up at the cab stand and deliver you safely to your door.

Then one day some people hollered, “Tear them down, it’s too costly, too far gone, we have no choice. Tear them down!”

Sarah Mauck is a Strasburg resident.

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