A Colonel of Wisdom

Today, there’s an 80 year old, chipped red brick sitting on my dining room table. This past weekend, I paid over 30 bucks for it. It’s not from Graceland or the Berlin Wall, but from an unassuming little building in LaSalle, Ontario that bulldozers pushed down in 2007 after almost 80 years of quiet, reliable service. It’s from my grade school.

I look back on my formative years in that building with a mix of nostalgia, fondness and just a little bit of antipathy. Colonel Bishop Public School was nothing to write home about. It was a nondescript shell full of asbestos, out of date globes, a full set of 1946 encyclopedias and not much else. The school board had long since turned its fickle eye to a new and improved elementary school many blocks away, with its fancy court yard, wall to wall shag carpets and shiny open concept classrooms. We were the toothless third cousin, worthy of a couple of gallons of discount institutional green paint but not of someone other than dedicated parents and indentured students to put it on the walls.

Ironically, it was the board’s lack of interest in this regard that made Colonel Bishop so special. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, it was our parents club and a few committed teachers that took up the charge for ‘luxuries’ like musical instruments and playground equipment. And it was those same dedicated teachers, parents and our amazing custodian Dick who taught us the value of a community coming together to help others in a time of need, which was pretty much constant at Colonel Bishop Public School.

There was a flip side, though. We were small, and had to work with what we had. As a result, many of us had the same teacher for up to five years in a row and even found ourselves in split grades with our own siblings. What CB gave with one hand – serial independence that cultivated innovation and ingenuity – it took with the other – serial disinterest leading to stagnation that cultivated in many of us a resistance to change. Several of us struggled through our remaining elementary years and even into high school, once CB was shuttered in 1983 and we were shipped to other schools where everyone didn’t know our names.

Regardless, today I feel so privileged to have walked those halls, read those dusty old encyclopedias and learned from some of the most fabulous teachers ever (you know who you are!), no matter how many times I heard how smart my sister was (is), and how much I needed to improve. Thirty years later, in some ways because of my time at CB and in others despite it, I’ve learned to manage change and help others do the same. And 30 years later, I still have a profound respect for and interest in my community. Now, I even have a 30 dollar red brick to prove it. That, and new cherished memories from a recent reunion, where, even 30 years later (geez, is there a “30 theme” here?), everyone still knows my name.

I have to admit, I still kind of prefer it that way…