A portrait of the author as a young woman (second from right, front row).

The Editor’s Desk: A trip back in time

A photograph from the distant past conjures up memories.

Who says there’s no such thing as time travel?

Last week a Facebook friend—who I knew as Lynn Michele Nixon, way back in the day when we were best friends in Elementary school—tagged me in a picture, and when I clicked on it I was immediately transported back across more than four decades.

The picture shows the grade 4/5 class of Harry Eburne Elementary School in Richmond in 1973, and there I am, sitting in the front row, second from the right. The picture in in black-and-white, but as soon as I saw it I remembered the dress I was wearing, which was a floral print in shades of orange and green. Funny how I can remember that, when these days I find myself in the garage wondering what I went down there for. I also note that I am not wearing my glasses, which had already been a part of my life for several years by that time. Vanity?

Most of the girls are sitting in the front row, feet together, hands demurely clasped in our laps. Only two girls are wearing pants; the rest of us are in dresses or skirts, and I recall that when I began attending Eburne in Grade 1 in 1969, girls were not allowed to wear pants: it was skirts or dresses only, with socks in spring and fall and leotards (for warmth) in winter. Thank goodness it was Richmond and not Prince George (and the rules had clearly been relaxed by the time I was in Grade 4 in 1972/73).

The “no pants for girls” rule was not the only sign (in hindsight) of what we would now call gender discrimination. There was a huge playing field behind the school, with baseball diamonds and soccer posts, but that was for the boys. The girls were—at least in my early years there—confined to a narrow strip of grass at the front of the school, and a concrete path beside the building that had hopscotch squares painted on it.

The school, which closed in 1982, had no gymnasium. Gym classes (such as they were) took place in an empty classroom, where we could do nothing more vigorous than calisthenics, play jacks, and take part in games that involved throwing nothing heavier than small beanbags, in case we broke a window. The desks were wooden, joined together on runners in rows of five or six, and had sloping lids which lifted and a space for ink bottles. The bottles were long since gone, but their ghosts lingered in the shape of the blue stains around the holes.

Most of the athletic activity took place outside, on the playing fields or lawn or in a large covered space at one end of the building, where we girls would play skipping games. Those long-ago skipping rhymes linger in my memory: “Christopher Columbus / Sailed the ocean blue / In fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two” and “Cinderella / Dressed in yella / Went upstairs / To kiss her fella”). We also—boys and girls—played marbles there, a sport at which I was singularly untalented.

The path many of us took to get to the school had a bridge across a wide ditch, where we tried to catch frogs and salamanders. We all walked to school, usually without parents; older siblings looked out for younger ones. There was no full-time principal; Mrs. Martin, the Grade 1 teacher, took on most of those responsibilities. The only time we saw the (male) principal seemed to be when one of the students needed disciplining, in which case they were taken to the furnace room — a gloomy, vaguely creepy place that we all steered clear of — and given the strap.

Two of the fresh-faced children in that picture—bright and eager, their whole lives in front of them—have since passed on. Judging by the comments from my former classmates that the picture generated, they are not forgotten, nor am I the only person with fond memories of those long-vanished days at Harry Eburne.

Of course there’s such a thing as time travel; we do it all the time, if only in our own minds. Thank goodness we have that capability.


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