By Bruce Stambaugh
I had driven this route many times in the past. Usually, it started in the early morning twilight and ended in the glare of the afternoon sun, if I didn’t have a meeting after school.
I served as principal at two of the nicest elementary schools anyone could hope for or conjure. I loved my job at Mt. Hope and Winesburg schools.
An emotional funk had overtaken me, and I needed a spiritual pick me up. Those former school days mentally surfaced, so I called the man who had replaced me 17 years ago. Dan was more than happy to show me around the schools where I once whistled my way down the halls. It had been years since I last graced them.
With our impending move to Virginia set for next spring, I knew I needed to start reconnecting with folks and places that had played such important roles in my life, professionally and personally. The schools were on that list.
That’s how I came to retrace the roads I took for 21 years every school day. I knew every turn, hill, and valley.
I made Mt. Hope my first stop. Dan greeted me at the front door after I pushed the security buzzer, a necessary addition since the Nickel Mines shooting 10 years ago in Lancaster Co., Pennsylvania.
Dan escorted me around the building that I knew so well. Physically, not much had changed. The staff and pupils, however, had. I soon found familiarity and links to the past.
Dan asked the students in each class how many of their parents had gone to Mt. Hope School. I was astonished at how many hands flew up. We went pupil by pupil to see if I could remember their folks.
To my amazement, and theirs as well, I remembered their parents and grandparents, where they lived, and even a few first names. When the school is full of Yoders and Millers, that’s not an easy task.
My reunions with Jerry the librarian, Jim the teacher, and Nettie the cook brought smiles to my face, stirred my soul and filled me with compassion for their career commitments to nurturing children.
My age hit me square in the face when I met the custodian of both schools, Brandon, a former student. He was too busy to talk much, but his handshake spoke volumes. The school sparkled as brightly as his eyes.
More memories resurfaced while driving the five miles between Mt. Hope and Winesburg. There still is no bar or golf course in between. The road was still bumpy, the views still pristine. Corn shocks stood in the same fields they had all those years ago.
At Winesburg, I found the school just as clean and hospitable as Mt. Hope. I was glad to see many of the same staff members I had worked with and hired before I retired. We hugged and shared heartfelt recollections.
The storyline with the students also repeated. The eagerness of the youngsters to name their parents buoyed me. Some I identified by family name just from their physical features. When a student said who her mother was, I said, “Oh, yes. I remember. Carie with one “r.” I’ll never forget the beam on that young face.
This uplifting experience had been a morning to remember for me. All this human interaction freed me from my gloominess. It gave me hope that any day, no matter how trying, can be a good day.
I just had to take the initiative. The children and friends did the rest.
© Bruce Stambaugh 2016
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