Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Old Haunts

God help this man, oh babe if you'd have known me when
- "Old Haunts"
The Gaslight Anthem

Saturday morphed into a seven-hour day at the office from something that I had originally hoped would have been a significantly shorter stay.  The good news, I suppose, is that I tend to start my Saturday "work day" schedule at the same time as I start work Monday through Friday, which meant that I was already chopping my way through my "to-do" list at or about 4:45 AM.  I headed for home just about noon with, arguably, a lot of the day still ahead of me but also, regrettably, with my cranky pants firmly cinched up. 

It helped my general outlook not at all to endure some typically January Joisey weather on my trek southbound on 287.  Initially I encountered snow, which fell innocuously enough that I did not even have to turn my wipers on to deal with it.   It rather quickly however changed over into some type of combination precipitation.  It looked like snow as it fell but it now stuck to the windshield and made an audible noise upon contacting the car.  

My mood, which admittedly was not great to begin with, quickly matched the grayness of my environment.  I opted to run an errand or two as opposed to heading directly home and sharing the gift of me with Margaret.  I am no better than average company when I am having a reasonably good day.  Saturday was not such a day.  

My mission to complete errands was not a total success.  However, even in its failure it was ultimately satisfying.  It took me past a place that my father called home for the past several years of his life, which place brought him more joy during those final few years than any other place did.  

Mom and Dad moved Kara, Jill and I over to Wardlaw-Hartridge for the 1978-79 school year, which coincided nicely with Kara's freshman year of high school and which also represented the second year of the newly-merged school's existence.  Dad had been at Wardlaw for seven or eight years when the merger happened and, truth be told, was less than optimistic about its likelihood of surviving its first year.  However, when it did, Kara, Jill and I became three new members of the flock.  

Since grades Kindergarten through 7th were on the Plainfield Avenue campus in Plainfield, New Jersey, which is the campus that Dad effectively ran as the Associate Head of the Lower School, Jill spent her first year at W-H sharing space with Dad.  He and I spent three years running into each other, which was unavoidable at least one time per day given his position as my Latin teacher.  I smile still thinking just how much more my great friend Dave Lackland took from our year of 7th grade Latin than I did.  

The neatest feature of the Plainfield Avenue campus was just that - it was a campus.  We had to walk from one building to another to change classes, which in the winter time gave us all fertile opportunity to knock each other into the snowbanks that loomed as ice walls on either side of the "just wide enough for one and one-half persons" path that connected the buildings.  Dad's office was on the first floor of the main building and when he opened his back door he stepped out onto a slate patio that overlooked the field on which Kara and Jill's field hockey teams played their home games. 

Once 7th grade was completed, in June 1980, I never had occasion to set foot on the Plainfield Avenue Campus again as a student.  Dad died less than one year later.  Although I am a member of the W-H Class of 1985, if I ever had occasion to set foot on the Plainfield Avenue campus during my high school years, I am forced to confess that I cannot remember when I did or any reason why I might have done so.  

But there I was on a rainy, snowy and generally shitty January Saturday afternoon, looking at a sign for the Koinonia Academy, which is the name of the school that now occupies the premises.  Given the prevalence of the rain and the signage suggesting that trespassing is frowned upon in this particular establishment, I did not get out of my car.  I did a "once-around" the campus, seeing all that I could see from my driver's side window.  

I stopped on Sherman Avenue - after having made the left turn onto it from Plainfield Avenue and - just for a few moments - looked across the campus towards the first floor of the main building.  I have no idea what is housed there now, if anything at all.  But through the mix of snow and rain - for just a brief glimpse - in my mind's eye I saw Dad open the door of his office and step out onto his patio, surveying all that was laid out before him.  

Smiling.  At peace.  

And before I realized it, so was I.    


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