Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Old High School

We left southern California for northern California in the summer of 1949. But what we really left behind was moving our trailer to the next town and entering the next school every three months, as Pop chased oil field work from one drilling rig to the next. On September 10, 1949 we parked our trailer on a concrete slab, once a tennis court, next to a big old abandoned two-story building that had been the Point Arena High School from the early 1900’s until about 1936, and temporarily the elementary school until the early 1940’s. After a few months in the trailer, Pop arranged for us to rent one big room in the old high school building and we moved in.

The room was about forty feet by fifty feet, with an area about ten feet wide at the rear separated from the rest by a partition that ran about three quarters across. Mom and Pop had their bed in the southwest quadrant, the stove, sink, and dining table were in the southeast quadrant, and a couch and easy chairs formed our “living room” on the south side of the partition. Younger brother Ronald and I had our bunk beds in the partitioned area in the northwest quadrant. A door to the central hall and staircase was in the northeast quarter, giving us access to two very large bathrooms, and another door led into what had been the science and shop room. The center of the room had a laboratory table with sinks and Bunsen burner hose connections, and the walls had pegs and painted silhouettes of the tools that were to be hung there.

Our little family of four were the only inhabitants of this building, which to me at age seven was enormous and exciting. There was a large room, similar to our room, at the southeast corner that I never entered, and never saw anyone enter. It was fascinating to look at it through the dirty windows, full of old furniture. Up the staircase, with its beautiful wooden banister perfect for sliding, were two large and two smaller classrooms. One of the large classrooms had an upright piano, and Mom would use it sometimes to pick out notes for the songs she wrote and was hoping to one day sell and become famous. There was a balcony centered on the north side over the main entrance. We didn’t go on the balcony very often. It was probably the only part of the old building that was a bit dangerous.

California State Highway One passed on the north side about one hundred feet from the building, and there was a concrete walkway from the sidewalk which went through a hedge, past a flagpole, ending at the front entrance. A finely box-trimmed cypress hedge ran along the north and west sides of the grounds, next to the sidewalk and highway on the north side, and provided good shelter from the constant north winds. Across Highway 1 was St. Aloysius Catholic Church, and going east from the church was an open field, then a small house, the rectory and St. Paul’s Methodist Church, and then the Point Arena Elementary School. We only lived in the old abandoned high school for about three years, but in memories it seems like we lived there much longer.

I remember we got our hot water from our wood burning cook stove, which also heated the room. On bath days we would put a large galvanized wash tub on the floor near the stove, and run a hose from the sink to fill it. Mom and Pop would have their baths, removing some water from the tub with a bucket and adding hot water as needed, then Ronald and I would have ours. When finished, we would scoop water from the tub with a bucket until it was lightened enough for us to pick it up and dump the remainder into the sink.

The building was torn down while I was away in the Air Force, I guess about twenty five or thirty years ago. I know it’s gone, but not really. A part of me will always live there.

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