Earlier this summer I walked across the threshold of Crestwood School in Crestwood, Kentucky for the first time in over 20 years. My daughter was starting kindergarten in a brand new school in Jefferson County, Kentucky and I wanted her to see the place where I attended school, knowing in the back of my mind that after this year, it would no longer exist as I knew it.
My parents had moved to Oldham County in 1975, the year when Louisville busing led to a flight of many families to Oldham and surrounding counties. At that time, Oldham County’s schools were nothing like they are now. The textbooks were woefully out of date, and my brother’s 4th grade class was using a text he’d had in 2nd grade in Maryland. By the time I started, in 1977, the schools had begun a turnaround. Crestwood’s new principal, Joe Jacovino, was a gem. He came to Oldham County from the East Coast, and was part of the major turnaround achieved by Oldham County Schools in the 70’s and 80’s. Crestwood was one of the oldest schools in the county, having been built around 1916 (if memory serves).
The school was built in Frankenstein style throughout the decades with wings built in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, all attached to the portion originally built. The year I started first grade was the last year the oldest portion would be used for classes. It was closed and used for storage the following year.
It had been over 20 years since I last stepped foot into the school, and I expected that my memories were a bit fuzzy as I walked into the building. I was wrong. The office looked much like it did over 30 years ago, as did the long hallway that passed it going to the left. That was where I had fourth and fifth grade classes. In this year of elections I remember staging a Carter/Reagan election in my fourth grade class.
I walked down the hall that ran in a straight shot from the front door. Here I’d spent my third grade year. The halls looked the same. The same linoleum, maybe even the same paint. I reached the end, attached perpendicular to the hallway built in the 70s. This was where I spent 2nd grade, learning my multiplication tables. I also had music and art for four years. In music class I heard my first Beatles album, played my first musical instruments and learned how to sing several songs that stuck with me for life. In art class I remember accidentally spilling paint and being given a mop and no bucket to clean it up with. Each pass made more of a mess than the one before.
I made a right and walked down the steps to the 60s wing. This was my favorite part. It was designed in a big circle. On the bottom floor was the cafeteria. Above was the library. Here I looked at the large air conditioning units that never quite worked right even then. Judging by the looks of it, even the dust hadn’t changed since I’d been here. The cafeteria held the same smells. I looked at the walls where some of us who got in trouble stood with our arms outstretched.
Upstairs I looked in on a classroom. When I was there it had been a Kindergarten classroom. The circular design of the building meant that each class had its own pie shaped portion divided by large cabinets. Again, it was like I’d stepped back in time. I quickly peaked into the next circular area. This is where it all started. My first grade class. The days spent working on phonics workbooks, simple math, number lines, watching Electric Company (SPIDERMAN!), and even occasionally watching 16 mm films that jumped in the sprockets.
It was here that I even heard my first F bomb, uttered by a creepy kid who got into a fight with another kid. Thank goodness I never asked my mom and dad what it meant. Because the person who gave me the tour seemed impatient to get back to the office, I didn’t walk in. But I felt a sadness wash over me. This building held 50 years worth of memories for thousands of kids. And in months it would be history itself, torn down to be replaced with a cookie cutter school that would probably look “nicer” but would lack the character of Crestwood.
The sadness grew as I walked past the library. How many books had I checked out here? Did they still have the edition of the World Book from the year I was born? Was there still a computer lab in there? Certainly not with the TI 99/4a computers they had when I was there. Was the book that I made, sewed the binding for, and covered with lovely 70s wallpaper still in there? Had anyone checked it out?
And the gym. How many games of dodgeball were played in there. Had moths eaten the parachutes we used to play with? Was this the same floor that they’d pulled up in the 70’s, allegedly causing a huge lice outbreak in first grade? I thought of performing YMCA in a PE presentation. And then I thought of my own daughter who’d learned to make the letters to the song earlier that year.
I walked out of the building with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Almost 1/7th of my life was spent in this building and soon it would be nothing but memories. My hope is to get back there one last time before it is gone, taking pictures of all the rooms and halls I haunted, and preserving a piece of my own personal history forever.