It feels like losing an old friend that you knew was dying, but the dying was slow and you had been going about your own business not paying much attention until, BAM, you find out the friend is gone and there is nothing you can do about your relationship.
Tuscaloosa County High School was built in 1927 in a small cornfield just on the edge of Northport Alabama. I should know. I graduated from the school in 1976, 49 years later. I know about the cornfield since our alma mater began:
"Rising midst the golden cornfields 'tis our alma mater true.
Points our dear old TCHS proudly to the velvet blue."
About 20 years later it was evident that the school needed to be replaced. Shoot, even when I was there things weren't really great. The halls were crowded. There was no central air-conditioning. The bathrooms were, well, I guess typical. But it was our high school. And we loved the old girl.
My junior year saw the last of the proms held in the old gym. It had been replaced several years before with a newer, sleeker, more concrete gymnasium in keeping with the athletic needs of the late 20th century. The new gym had no personality. The old gym had been given to the girls. That was okay by me. It had great acoustics. Every squeak of a tennis shoe, bounce of a basketball, whoosh of a basket, and shout reverberated and settled comfortably into your heart. The lower half of the walls were painted blue, the upper half a soft creamy white. A gold band separated the two colors. Around the walls wooden folding bleachers, worn to a soft patina from so many teenaged fannies over the years, could be pushed in or pulled out as needed. Six basketball goals surrounded the space like sentinels. It was perfect for a dance. As "prom decorator" that year I supervised the making of hundreds of tissue flowers and garlands which we used to fill the baskets. A floral backdrop was painted and a swing with floral wound ropes was suspended in front of it for photographs of the lovely maids and their beaus. No prom was ever more romantic than that one.
During my senior year I was excused from classes to paint a mural on one of the choral room walls. I wonder now how that could have transpired. If memory serves me correctly it was only English class that I skipped, at a later cost. I had to make up for it in college. But at the time it was exciting and gave me a certain sort of clout around school. It also helped me get a college scholarship in art. For many generations long after I was gone people would mention when they met me that they knew the mural. At first I was flattered. The reality is that it is better off demolished it was so gawd awful. A beach scene with distorted palm trees painted on cinderblock!
My favorite class wasn't what most people would associate with me. It wasn't Band, Spanish, Art, or Chorus, all of which I loved. It was my 11th grade American History class with Faye Lavelle. She was a brilliant teacher. And I gained a healthy respect for the early years of our country from sitting in that classroom. It was in the older part of the building where the walls were paneled in a dark cherry and the lights were softer. That year for an assignment I made a mural on brown butcher paper with crayons. I used a lot of white for accent on the brown paper. The finished product depicting the landing of the Mayflower and the Pilgrims was a masterpiece. Dear Mrs. Lavelle kept it for several years as an example. But as with all things it eventually aged and deteriorated and had to be discarded. Like the building in which it was kept.
The old building may be bulldozed, but the sound of footsteps, laughter, whispering, and locker doors will remain in my heart forever.
Goodbye County High.