Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Adams County Adventures

Yesterday, I took a lovely walk down memory lane. Not the actual Memory Lane in York, where I live, but the figurative version. 

The impetus for the trip was a book signing I’m doing this Sunday at the Starbucks in Gettysburg. Since I’d never been to the store (it didn’t exist when I lived in Gettysburg way back when), I wanted to do a dry run, pin down the exact location, get an idea of the layout, drop off some promotional materials, and maybe get a little work done. 

I was successful in all but the most important of those tasks; a barista informed me (kindly) that I wasn’t allowed to leave any signs or posters. Okay. Their venue, their rules. I ordered my drink, scoped out a table, sipped my drink and did some work. 

And then the fun began.

My first real job as a school counselor was at the Fairfield Area School District. They hired me right out of graduate school to create an elementary school guidance program and to work as the K-8 school counselor.

The Village Book and Table
Fairfield is a lovely place, if a bit foreign to a girl from Jersey. Lots of mountains, plenty of small town charm and a staff made up largely of folks who’d lived in the area all their lives. It was a great place to start a life.

Fairfield is about eight miles west of Gettysburg and a straight shot out Route 116, which is called Middle Street in Gettysburg. I took the direct route, recognizing many landmarks (beginning with my old apartment on Middle Street) and marveling at the changes that had taken place along Fairfield Road -- until I realized it had been 25 years since I’d made this trip on a daily basis. 

The Fairfield Inn
I had vivid memories of driving down Main Street every morning on my way to work. I loved my job at Fairfield, and yesterday, the happiness I’d felt driving to work there every morning resurfaced and settled in around me. 

The elementary school where I had my office sits a quarter mile off the main road and as I drove the final stretch that curves gently into the parking lot at the front of the school, all of the feelings came back in a rush. Anticipation. Optimism. Excitement. Every morning, I looked forward to walking through those doors and seeing the secretary (Phyl), the principal (Jack, who said my name -- “Miss Lawmaster” -- in a way no one had before and no one has since) and all of the wonderful staff members who embraced a nervous, green counselor from New Jersey who’d been plopped into foreign territory. It was a wonderful place to begin a career.
The front doors often hung open when I worked there, especially in the spring, and though the lone car in the parking lot yesterday sat with its windows open, I had no expectation that the doors would be unlocked now. Still, the secretary buzzed me in before I could think of what to say about why I was there in the first place. Although she was packing up for the day, she agreed to let me take a walk through the building. Appreciative of the opportunity, I promised to be quick.

It was the same, yet different. Bigger (had that addition been there when I was there?) with twenty-first century furnishings and Dr. Mikesell-Redding (whom I’d known as Dani -- one of my students) occupying the guidance office now. For those with no connection to the building, it looked like any other school in the summer time -- rooms in various stages of disarray as the summer cleaning crews worked their magic. But for me, this was more than just any other school building.

Walking past the gym, I teared up. In the mid-1980s, we had what our PE teacher (Skip) called a “cafegymatorium” -- one big, open space that served as cafeteria, gym and auditorium -- where I used to go to play the piano before school in the morning or after school when the kids were long gone. We sat in that cafegymatorium eating lunch with a room full of kids one day in 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on the television screen before our eyes. We didn’t have crisis intervention teams back then, and I’m guessing the kids saw more than one of their teachers cry as citizen-teacher Christa McAuliffe took her first and final journey. 

For the first two years that I worked in Fairfield, I lived in Arendtsville and I quickly learned from my colleagues that the drive through the orchards was the quickest way to work. It was also the most beautiful, and in the fall, the most fragrant. Though I knew the   drive home would be faster and more efficient if I simply turned onto Fairfield Road and followed it back into Gettysburg, I was feeling neither hurried nor efficient, and so I let my memory be my guide -- a venture that’s much scarier now than it was when I was 23. Consequently, I plugged my home address into my phone’s GPS before starting out.
I needn’t have been concerned. Back then, free of the myriad distractions that occupy my driving time now (both inside and outside of my own head), I noticed things. Houses, fruit stands, fields. Twenty-five years later, I still recognized the places I’d passed on the way to work, and as I hit the final stretch of road, where the speed limit slows to 30 mph in preparation for the stop sign in Arendtsville, that Friday afternoon/pay day hit as it had so many times back then.

There were probably at least ten reasons I shouldn’t have taken the Fairfield and Arendtsville detours yesterday, and yet there I was, navigating back roads with the windows open, recalling the bittersweet feelings of a weekend in a tiny town when you’re single and everyone else is married, mingled with the joy and enthusiasm that comes when your whole life is ahead of you.
Climbing out of the car in the FASD parking lot and donning my “interview suit” jacket on a sunny day in May 1985, the reality of interviewing for a position where I’d create something out of nothing (when my experience amounted to a gigantic pile of nothing) hit me, and I wondered for a moment what I was thinking. But there was no time to explore that train of thought, so I put on my confidence along with my jacket and walked into the administration office.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Fairfield was a place where people had my back. The size of the district and its tucked away location and tiny salary didn’t matter, but the people did.

They still do. And I can’t wait to see them on Sunday.

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