It is not easy to go back to the site of our Fairview.
Not at all … perhaps a bit like going to the viewing hours prior to the funeral service for someone, who your own guilt would have you believe you didn’t thank well enough during life.
Or better yet, it might be that sense of finality that what once was, can never be again. Some center of complete fantasy in your brain wants you to imagine that, contrary to all reality, it could somehow be once more.
When she still stood and was serving as an elementary school in the first decade of this millennium, it never entered our minds that “they” would be so foolish as to destroy such a treasure. That would be like terrorists du jour going into Palmyra and systematically destroying those iconic sites of Syria’s heritage … blasphemy in the name of blasphemy. And even when the handwriting on the walls told us the school was closing, we were so sure another purpose would be found for such a grand edifice. It only made sense.
And in the fall of 2011, as we saw the windows being removed for recycling, there was some bit of hope held out that reason might yet prevail, the governor would call to issue a reprieve and some civic-minded champion with a grand vision, would see the school as a centerpiece for some program of neighborhood revitalization.
Hope springs eternal, but often to no avail. As the cranes, steam-shovels and bulldozers came in to do their worst, an inner, much less pragmatic tug at our heartstrings imagined that somehow the phoenix could fly again — perhaps re-assembling itself overnight, as some cosmic Penelope re-wove the tapestry she had just unraveled as part of her deception of those who had their own designs for her destiny.
The heart wants what the heart wants … and reason just has to take a back seat to the vagaries of reality until the scene plays out to conclusion.
So going to the groundbreaking for the library on the Fairview site, in early summer of 2014, was profoundly painful. It was an attempt to drive home that new-and-improved reality. It was as if the space had been surgically sanitized — with all of the little bits and pieces of our Fairview removed. Those concrete and brick benches at the corner bus stop were gone. They were gifts from several classes in the ‘40s. What would it have hurt to preserve them, he asked, rhetorically?
The brick pillars that secured the wrought iron gates to the athletic field were no longer … a gift from the class of 1930. My cynicism saw that as an act of purposeless disregard for any sense of legacy or heritage. No part of the new library building would come within 200 feet of those gates. Apparently smarter people than you or I make those decisions. Cue the laugh track.
Even my own internal GPS was finding it harder and harder to orient itself. A tent was set up at what I felt was Third and Main, so the politicians and bureaucrats could listen to themselves convince each other how wonderful an idea it was to re-create the area to common advantage.
I had been asked if I wanted to speak at the ceremony on behalf of the Fairview alumni community. I declined, not wanting my voice to appear to add any legitimacy to the enterprise. It would have to search elsewhere for validity or endorsement.
And I sure as insert-expletive-here wasn’t going to take one of the ceremonial chrome-plated shovels and toss that first bit of earth to seal the fate of Fairview, much less contribute to the new construction. That same “they” didn’t even have the decency to use the dirt that was already there. Rather, they brought in some new, loose, pulverized soil to make it more dignitary-friendly. Really?
Instead, I used the time to wander from the festivities in search of one bit of something left to convince me I still was someplace special. Even the terrain itself had been sculpted to reflect another world … more closely aligned to the architectural renderings produced to impress spenders of the bond money. Gone were the ups and downs of our time … that small but evident rise where the students were allowed to park … the graceful promontory where the auditorium sat.
All too soon there would only be soulless concrete-glass-aluminum in search of some higher calling that might come with being a library. There would be a parking lot for only fifty or so cars, because, of course, you have to leave room for tiny buggy-whip trees and plantings that will never get the first bit of TLC, placed in concrete surrounds of curbing that will be ruined the first time the snow plows wreak their special brand of havoc.
And then it hit me. Thinking of trees was the epiphany. Somehow, despite all attempts to the contrary, those three magnificent maples outside Miss Folger’s office were still there … remaining proudly defiant in the face of near-certain oblivion, once the landscape committee has their way.
Don’t tell anyone they’re still there. It’ll be our secret.
Sometimes you just can’t see the trees for the forest.