The night before last I was in the kitchen doing dishes and thinking of a few childhood memories that took place in my school. As I sit here now, sipping my peppermint coffee and trying to remember just why I was reliving memories from a few decades ago... I can't. Something must have triggered them but I'm not sure what.
When I was 7 years old we moved from a large city to a very small town in the heart of America. I attended the parochial elementary/jr. high school just down the block from my home. I think at the time, in 2nd grade, we had about 24 kids in our class. As the years went by many schoolmates moved away from our little town on the prairie and when I graduated from that school in 8th grade we had 13 kids in our class.
One of the memories that jumped into my brain was how excited we would get when it was time for parent teacher conferences to roll around. I don't recall the cut off age, but I know once you were one of the 'older' kids you got to sign up for certain jobs or tasks during conferences.
Excitement was in the air when we found out the sign-up form was going to be posted or passed around the classes. The coveted slot of gold was the 'bell ringer'. This student would set up shop in the schools administration office and their sole job was to watch the clock and push the button that would ring the buzzer/bell every 15 minutes to let teachers and parents know their time was up; as well as the 3 minute short 'warning' bell prior to the longer buzzer signaling the end of the conference.
The bell ringer not only got to hang out in the school office but it's where the real treasure was... the food. Sitting there for an hour time slot (or two if you could sneak your name into both slots without a teacher calling you out for it and making you give up one of the coveted positions) chatting with friends that stop in the office, watching the little TV that was kept in the office and eating scads of delicious foods of all types that had brought in for the teachers during conference evenings.
That was also a sign up slot. Food donations.
Conferences started right after school at 3:30 on the first day, and there was no school the 2nd day of conferences so teachers were spending all day at the school and didn't go home for meals. Families would sign up to bring in hot dishes, main meals, side dishes, desserts, snacks and drinks for the teachers to eat. The foods provided were always amazing as a lot of church and school pot luck style meals are. That, my friends, was the real gold. It's also why most of the guys tried to sign up as bell ringers!
I did bell ringing some of the time but what I truly loved was the babysitting slots. I loved children, loved babies and loved babysitting. For me and my friends we would sign up and then hope and pray some of our 'favorite' families would be slated for conference times during our shifts. It was a big disappointment to find out your favorite babies or toddlers went to their conference during someone elses shift or even worse, the family had other childcare set up and didn't bring them!
With wrestling mats set up in the corner of the gym, random toys we all would bring from home 'for the cause' and children's records and cassette tapes playing in the background; we would spend our 2 hour slots feeding babies, running after toddlers and playing games with the little kids.
Sometimes there were no kids at all during our time slots. And that is another random memory that popped into my head as I did dishes that evening.
Two friends and I signed up for childcare on a very slow conference day. No kids. No parents. No teachers. No visitors. As we sat on the wrestling mats and chatted about nothing in particular, one of my friends that had numerous older brothers and sisters who had gone to the school before us pointed out there were tunnels under the gym floor. Tunnels!? Really? Noooo. Yes?
And so we set out to find them. And we did.
The entrance was actually under the wrestling mat we were on. A large square cut out of the floor of the gym but not marked or noticeable in any way. We carefully pried it up and sure enough, about a 4 foot drop below us was a tunnel. A dark tunnel. Without lights of course. We ventured down into the tunnel a few feet, feeling ever so rebellious and naughty. (Hey, we were 12. And it was a Catholic school. Believe me, this was rebellious for us!) Being too dark to see farther than a few feet, a plan was made. The next babysitting shift we could get on together, we'd come armed with flashlights.
And we did. Although it was busier at the time and we really did have to time it just right and hope no one came into the gym while we were exploring! We went down, put the floor back in place behind us and, hunched over to fit in the shallow tunnels, we proceeded to explore.
After going straight for quite a while we came to a corner and took it. As we were now in the heart of the tunnel, in pitch black, we whispered about where we might be under the gym and how far the tunnels go, and whether or not there were spiders or if someone had come into the gym while we were down there!
Our nerves got the best of us and we found our way back to the opening where we had left the flooring just 'off' enough to allow some light to filter down so we could find the opening again. As we came out of the tunnel we saw the janitor entering the gym from the far door! My two friends had scrambled out, but I had only made it out as far as my eyes. My head was quickly shoved back down and the floor put in place above my head as my friends pretended they weren't doing something they shouldn't be.
Over the next two years we went to school there we managed to slip down into the tunnels a couple times more. Word spread to a few of the guys in our class and they too found ways to sneak down. We did our part of continuing the rumor of 'hidden tunnels' for the kids who came after us to whisper of the tales and try to find them themselves. I had younger brothers and while the first two also took part in the secretive whispers of tunnels, by the time our youngest brother went through the school it was 'old news'. As a matter of fact, by then everyone knew about the tunnels and most had gone down into them at one time or another and the whole topic was no longer strange and mysterious.
They took the fun out of it.
The school is no longer functioning as a place of learning as the population of our little town dwindled and the class sizes fell so low it was not feasible to keep it open. It was shuttered and the bells no longer ring. The gym is silent and the halls will probably never be filled children again. Sad really... but I guess time marches on.
The end of my 'tunnel' memory (which by-the-way went though my brain in like, 10 seconds even though it's taken me about 10 minutes to type it all out!) is that for 3 girls who didn't want to be caught in the tunnels we were pretty stupid. We were so proud of ourselves that we pilfered a piece of paper from the crayon pile in our little childcare area and we wrote on the paper:
September 8, 1982*
Mary, Kristin and Meritt were here and we didn't get caught!
And we left it on the floor of the tunnel just below the opening.
Ok. Because you know, when you don't want to get caught, you try to leave exact, precise evidence of what you did for the janitor and other adults to find. Ha. Ah... the innocence and stupidity of youth.
*randomly made up date; I don't recall the precise date we went down