ON HAND: A trip down memory lane

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column.

My heart was pounding with anticipation. Twenty years after I left, I was finally returning to a place that held so many memories for me: Springfield, Illinois.

As I drove, I thought about all the years at Hay-Edwards Elementary School, where I attended until I was nine years old. I thought about how my first grade teacher would sign “no” in the oddest way; and how Mrs. B would cop attitudes on us and force us to give her shoulder massages. I thought about when Mrs. B explained that her new car had cruise control. “Does that mean you can sleep while driving?” a classmate asked in amazement.

I thought of my hearing classmates who went out of their way to learn sign language, and how some of them still are very involved with the deaf community today. I remembered practicing speaking, “I hate you,” with my hearing girlfriends over and over so I could break up with Matt in the fourth grade. When I walked up to Matt and spoke the words, he frowned and said, “Huh? What did you say?” I stomped back to my girlfriends, humiliated.

I let out a chuckle as I remembered my second-grade interpreter, a reverend with perfectly manicured nails who was also my parents’ marriage counselor (they divorced–enough said). I was always so embarrassed when he came to my classroom in full reverend attire.

I was curious. Were my classrooms the same? Were there still deaf students at Hay-Edwards? Was the principal’s office, where he often paddled disruptive students with a wooden paddle, still at the end of the building?

As I drove to the school, I was taken aback at how uncanny my memory was. All these years, I had remembered details of the town perfectly–the aquarium store on MacArthur Drive, the bowling alley I learned how to play Donkey Kong and Dig Dug at, and certain landmarks leading to my house.

I pulled up to the school. The building was exactly how I remembered. I stepped out of my jeep, took in a breath of fresh air, and noticed that there was no playground equipment anywhere. Finding this odd, I figured perhaps the playgrounds were moved or being renovated.

When I arrived at the main entrance, my heart dropped. The entrance doors said, STATE OFFICE BUILDINGS. I went inside, and there were no classrooms–only cubicles. I talked with a security guard who seemed thrilled by the fact that I had attended the school. He said the school had been converted about 15 years ago. Yet I could see traces of my years there: the paneling on the doors; the layout of the floors, hallways and rooms; and the smell of the school still lingered.

I walked to my jeep, saddened that my formative years in deaf education seemed to have vanished. Then I reminded myself that these years had very much left a mark upon me, and that my memories were precious. I left, feeling content.

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