I recently received an email from an old elementary school classmate. It’s been years since I’ve spoken to him, and it brought back a flood of wonderful memories of my childhood.
I grew up in Elmont, the youngest of four children. In the middle of our neighborhood was Clara H. Carlson Elementary School. Across the street from the school was the now-legendary Wal-Cliffe Rollerdrome, which was closed and taken down years ago. My sister, Sue, and I spent many happy Friday nights there. The children who went to Carlson all lived within about a mile of it. It seemed like everyone knew each other. The boys didn’t talk to the girls much, but we all knew who the other people were.
I went to Carlson for seven years — kindergarten through sixth grade — September 1967 through June 1974. Though there was a lot going on in the world during this time period — the Vietnam War, the Apollo space program, political assassinations, the hippie generation, etc. — it didn’t seem to faze us kids. We were too busy having fun.
When the school had an air raid drill, we were like, “Yes, an air raid drill!” The teachers would march us down into the school basement, and we would sit with our heads between our legs, facing the wall. Of course, we were quietly laughing the whole time. Years later, I can still smell the aroma of the hallways and can still see our janitor, Mr. Larry, mopping the floors.
Who can forget our principals? First, there was Mr. Parrot and then soon after came Mr. Lawlor. And of course, last, but definitely not least, the assistant principal, Mr. Paul. I’m sure Mr. Paul was a fine and decent man on the inside, but to us kids, he was the “dreaded Mr. Paul,” the disciplinarian of the school. If you got in trouble for any reason, you went to Mr. Paul’s office to face your punishment.
I remember all of my teachers. I’ll never forget the plays we did in fourth grade with Mr. Kantor. It seemed like he would have us do a play at least once a month, which is unheard of nowadays.
I would walk home every day from school, and sometimes I would stop at Sam’s Deli, which was about six blocks away from the school and a great meeting spot for everybody. There, I would load up on some candy or maybe get a pack of baseball cards for 10 cents, hoping to get a Willie Mays card or a Hank Aaron card.
The neighborhood was filled with kids, most of whom went to Carlson. It was a great time; playing ball in the streets all day long during the summer — I’ll never forget it.
When seventh grade came, it was time to go up the street to the middle school, Alva T. Stanforth, on Hempstead Turnpike. Stanforth had kids from everywhere: Elmont, Franklin Square, Floral Park, Stewart Manor. I’ll never forget my first class in seventh grade. I didn’t know one person in the class. I was like, “Where is everybody from Carlson?”
Although I had some good times at Stanforth, and then later at Sewanhaka High School, it was just not the same. The magic was gone. People built walls between them — you know, the jocks, the heads, the brains, the nerds, etc. It’s just a part of growing up, but a piece of me will always be there.
Now as an adult of 54 years, I do feel truly blessed with a wonderful wife and three children, but I do miss those old days at Clara H. Carlson. Those days gone by. Those days of wonder.
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