Thomas Wolfe said, "You Can't Go Home Again", but this week I tried.
On my way to a Pulmonary Hypertension Support Group meeting in Cheyenne, WY, I planned a stopover in Wheatland, the location of my first real job and the beginning of my 33-year career in education.
Ironically, as I drove down the eerily familiar streets, John Denver crooned on the radio, "Hey it's good to be back home again. . ."
It truly was good to be back home again.
I slowly drove by the places I had lived 36 years ago (just putting that is writing is daunting and makes me feel ancient) and pulled over briefly to snap photos.
My first apartment was in the basement of an older home; the second, an apartment with a Murphy bed and steam radiators that made the doors swell shut in the winter. It was a good thing I was smaller in those days and able to squeeze through the windows. The small home (pictured above) was shared with another teacher, and finally I purchased a mobile home.
Wheatland was home for six years: I packed more activity and fun in those six years than in all the years since. Many of the friendships I made during those years are still strong. Everyone has moved on to other schools and other states, but our time at this location cemented our lives together.
I wish that I had a photo of this building before the mural was repainted. The mural used to cover the entire side of the building. The Landmark was a frequent "watering hole" on Friday evenings.
Memory has a strange way of warping reality. I didn't think I would have an opportunity to enter the school buildings since I would be arriving after school hours, but Fortune was on my side. I pulled over to take some photos of the building where it all began, pictured at the top of this post. As I clicked away, a woman exited and was clearly on her way home. She inquired if I had gone to school in the building, and so I began my story. Graciously, she asked if I wanted to see my old classroom, and for the next half-hour, she took me back in time.
Wheatland High School was destroyed by a fire the year before I was hired and classes in the fall of 1973 were held wherever there was room -- church basements, above downtown businesses, meeting halls, etc. Classes were scattered all over town, and patience concerning tardies was a necessity.
My first classroom was the lobby of the gymnasium and contained four outside doors, two doors to the gymnasium, one door to the main building, and a door to boiler room. It was a constant battle to keep students' attention with basketballs pounding on the gym doors, students coming in to get a drink from a water fountain by the boiler room door, and custodians going to the boiler room. Everything had to be portable because on game days all the desks, book cases, etc. were stacked against the side wall. Looking back, I don't know how I survived my first year. I doubt if a Fire Marshal or the teacher'' union would allow such a classroom space now. Here is my lobby "classroom" 36 years later. Imagine this space filled with forty desks. (I am glad that the walls were painted white then.)
My second year I was still in the same building, but I was fortunate to have a real classroom. Sure it was an old elementary classroom and the chalk boards were knee high, but it had one door and I was not required to move things for game nights.
Since the building is now used for Community Outreach, my classroom now houses the Spinning classes. I wonder why I didn't think of hanging posters like that in my classroom?
By my third year, the new building was progressing, and I was moved into yet another classroom. Although it was not in the new building, I loved this room. I had a bank of windows that faced south, and I filled them with Jade plants, Geraniums, and vines. The other three walls were chalk boards and bulletin boards. I had built-in bookcases under the window. It was an ideal room.
I really wanted to see the school auditorium since I was also the drama teacher. I spent a lot of time in that space, directing musicals, one-acts, and full-length productions, climbing the cat-walk, setting lights, and painting scenery. The auditorium door was unlocked, but I could not find the light switch, so I had to settle for the outside classroom where my students performed skits and plays. The trees have grown considerably.
The new high school is actually a complex of separate buildings, almost like a college campus. During the 1970's the campus had these buildings: agriculture, industrial arts, science, classroom, library, business, and the main building that housed the office, music, auditorium, gymnasium, art, and home economics. It appears that the fear of fire has dissipated, as some additions are now connected to the existing buildings.
Wheatland has a special place in my heart. The town, the school, the parents, and the students made me the teacher that I later became. I am forever grateful for my six years in this special place, this place I am proud to call home.