Bathroom walls just aren’t much fun anymore; they’re too clean.
It used to be that you could learn more in one afternoon visit to the girls’ bathroom than in a whole year of sociology classes. Who liked whom, why and how. Who was doing what with whom. What size foundation garments someone wore and what size she should be wearing – critical stuff one just couldn’t make it through third period without knowing.
It was a jungle in there. At good ol’ W-BHS – the part of Russell Middle School that hasn’t either been burned or torn down – the bathrooms were legendary. In the old – now gone – buildings, the complete genealogy of half the county was chronicled on the walls. With a magic marker and some time, you could complete your whole family tree and never leave the girls bathroom.
If you visited all of the girls’ bathrooms, there was enough material for a mini-series on what kids today refer to as the drama going on in so many of the young lives entangled in the hallowed hall – it was incredibly long – of Winder-Barrow High School. It usually behooved one to visit all the bathrooms if anything of any real consequence was going on at the time. It was like an entire “The Shadow Knows” written on the stalls and walls of the girls’ bathrooms.
The boys’ bathroom, on the other hand, portrayed a completely different sort of educational face. I’m told that General Telephone used to send directory compilers to the high school so they could make sure they had all the phone numbers assigned to the right household. By the time I graduated in 1972, there was some discussion about hiring a social secretary and concierge to be stationed in one of the stalls. There was certainly no need to venture beyond those hallowed halls to find out where to go and with who depending on one’s plans for the evening.
One Saturday night in the fall after my high school graduation, we learned from the radio (nobody except Dick Tracy had the capability to call from a device the size of a wristwatch) that our old stompin’ ground was ablaze. A remodeling job In the D.F. Osborne Auditorium had not included new wiring. A group using the auditorium that weekend didn’t realize a short in the old, frayed wiring had started a smoldering fire that would wait until everyone had left before igniting several decades of precious memories. Only the hallway of the old science and math departments is still standing today.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the lo-o-o-o-ng hallway through the vocational department, past the cafeteria and Mr. Robison’s – later Mr. Elliott’s – band room, through the “new school” built in the 1950s for the burgeoning elementary population and out onto the Church Street entrance, the little grammar school would meet a different fate.
Personally, I had gone to school somewhere in that building ten out of twelve of my years in public school. In the old grammar school, I had first been privileged to have a class there the year I was in Barbara Trepagnier’s fourth grade class to be followed by fifth grade in Joann Phillips’ classroom. I can still see the plank floors. Classroom walls filled with chalkboards we loved to write on and then erase. Cloak closets in each classroom harkened back to a much earlier time and were loads of fun to play in when rainy weather pre-empted outside recess.
It broke my heart when that building was demolished because we didn’t bother to take care of it. Somebody decided it wasn’t pretty enough to command our attention.
If a building is built well, it’ll last several lifetimes. Many of the old Winder buildings we can only see in photographs today were constructed out of materials that just aren’t used today using techniques we strive to replicate. University Architect Danny Sniff tells me that one of his greatest joys in overseeing construction projects at UGA is in analyzing the historic construction techniques in some of the buildings on campus. He says we have no idea what we’re doing when we decide a building important to our heritage isn’t worth taking care of because it just doesn’t fit our idea of “grand” or “pretty”; we have so much to learn from how they were built and the stories they tell.
Remembering that our history and heritage isn’t always portrayed by what we deem worthy of our esteem, we need to look at our surroundings with great affection for they tell the story of who we are. Without them, we are but a figment of someone’s imagination.
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.