Tony Vagneur: There’s always time for a fit of reminiscence
It has been said that our knowledge and general sense of history usually only goes back as far as the collective memory. We see this all the time in Aspen, particularly as evidenced by some people still wanting to know which came first, Aspen or Vail. Does it even matter to folks like that?
You may accuse me of digging up ghosts of columns past, but with all the fresh snow, amounts of which almost paled from recent memory, thoughts come forth of the Red Brick, when it was a bona fide school, when we young elementarians used to sled down the steep hill behind the gymnasium.
Impossible, you say? Yes, today it would be impossible — someone put a road right through the middle of the track, totally unneeded it would appear, but nonetheless, it used to be a beauty of a hill. As far as I know, no one ever got paralyzed from a crash there (a la “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton), although there were undoubtedly some injuries.
We didn’t always have a sled, so we made do with whatever we thought would slide well. Maybe grab some cardboard boxes from behind Matthew Drug; Conner Chevron might give us a leaky inner tube or, if conditions were just right, we slid down on our backs, on our butts, or bellies. But whatever we did, and even though not everyone participated — some just watched — we all had fun.
Aside from the guaranteed thrills, in our excitement there was the always forgotten fact that playing in the snow tends to make clothes wet, especially the non-tech gear we wore back when. We had wool, cotton, nylon, rubber and leather. Kids don’t think about that going in, how wet and cold they’re going to get, but it’s a guaranteed byproduct.
Imagine 12 or 15 kids slogging back into the classroom with rosy-red cheeks, unhappy that recess was over, accompanied by runny noses, wet britches, soaked gloves, cold hands and feet and settling into solitary desks for the next hour or longer of instruction. Overshoes were the predominate winter footwear. What fun we had.
That red brick school, now the Red Brick, had a hot water heating system that emanated into the classrooms through one or two registers in each room. The boiler was in a shed across the back lot, next to a huge coal bin, the contents delivered by Ed Tiederman, the same man who also sold firewood and hay and who owned the quick-stop grocery store on Hyman, catty-corner from the Wheeler Opera House.
Anyway, if you haven’t lived through a winter with heat registers like that, you’ve probably never thought you might be blown up any second with the next loud cracking and popping sounds as air bubbles made their way through the system. They were generally quiet, but sometimes had their moments that even got the teachers a little wide-eyed on occasion.
Kids, with the sometimes help of teachers in sympathy for their shivering charges, put wet clothes, mittens, scarves, hats, mostly wool items, on or next to these heat registers. The smell of wet wool, as it begins to warm and dry out, is an odor not easily forgotten, although such a smell gave hope to the promise that by the time lunch arrived or school was out, things would be reasonably dry and we might get in a little more time on the hill behind the school.
In a fit of reminiscence, as I’m doing with this column, I wandered through the Red Brick several years ago, picking up on some old memories. I ducked into the empty math room, where in high school I struggled with algebra and geometry, with teachers like Tom Whipple and Jim Babcock. “Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” Babcock wrote on the blackboard in a swirl of chalk dust punctuated by enthusiastic spittle as he said it, and I swore I would never forget that. He offered it only as a theory. Maybe he was more of a philosophy guy than a math guru.
As I soaked in the last bit of remaining ambiance from time spent in that room, sans chalk dust, an officious woman asked if she could help me. “No,” was my reply, “I’m just reminiscing a bit of my school days in here.” “Yeah, right,” she replied with a derisive chuckle. Makes one wonder whose collective memory she was a part of.
Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at email@example.com.