Sleepwalking Through the Past

Sometimes a wave of nostalgia floods over me so intense that it takes my breath away. The diaphanous web slowly dissolves and my past comes into view.

This happened to me last week. For some reason I decided to see if I could find a google earth image of the first elementary school that I attended. I wasn’t sure if it was still going to be there. I typed in Bellinger Hill Elemenary School, Montgomery, Alabama. Sure enough, there it was.

I stared at the image. It was so spooky how it was almost exactly how I remembered it. The facade, the rounded white windows on the second floor, the steps leading to the front door… and the yard. 
The yard in the front was our playground. In those days, or at least at this school, the boys and the girls were separated during recess. Looking towards the school, the boys were on the left and the girls were on the right. I was admonished on more than one occasion for crossing the barrier – the steps – and playing on the girls side. Whenever I was spotted by a teacher, I would be led by the hand back to the boys side.

I still remember the school song.

Bellinger Hill is the school for me
To it I give my loyalty
Here is my hand, here is my heart
At Bellinger Hill, I get my start

Hail, Hail to thee
Hail, Hail to thee
Bellinger Hill is the school for me
Hail, Hail to thee

I even remember the melody. I have a vision of myself standing on the coffee table in our living room and singing the song for my parent’s visiting friends.

Bellinger Hill is where I learned how to read. We had Dick and Jane books. Our teacher also used flash cards. I have a clear memory of myself getting the words is and this confused.

As I stared at the image and tried to recall as much as I could about my first grade year, I remembered that we lived quite close to the school. A few blocks. I had a vision of myself as a six year old, walking the tree-lined sidewalk on my way to school. As I approached the school, it was on my right.

I wondered if the house we lived in was still there. I decided to go a google earth streetview walkthough, to see if I could find it.

After a few clicks, I saw it. The path (which in the picture is to the left of the garbage can) leading to the backyard and, to the right, the house that we lived in. I have a very clear image of myself marching back and forth on that path, singing commercial jingles at the top of my lungs.

Here is another view.

I remember the inside of the house. In particular, the bedroom that I shared with my sister. It had red, yellow and blue circus wallpaper.

As I walked a little farther down the road I came across these steps.

In the summer of ’63, I would sit on these steps with my friend Tony. Tony was an African-American boy my age, and I can see his face as plain as day. We were best friends. We would sit on those steps for hours playing with Etch A Sketches and Yo-yos.

When school started that year and we entered the first grade, Tony was in my class. We were both so excited. One vivid image that I have of that day is of a parent walking into the classroom and removing their child because there were ‘black’ children in the class – Tony, and 2 little girls. I remember being confused and not understanding what was going on.
Tony and I had spent the whole summer running up and down the street, playing on those steps, and going to the corner store to buy popcicles. No one ever said a word. I never heard any mention of the fact that he was black and I was white. My parents never mentioned it. At least not in front of me. As far as Tony’s parents…well, I don’t ever recall meeting them. I just knew Tony, the kid from down the street.

Later that year, Kennedy was assassinated. It was a Friday, and I was home sick that day. I’ll never forget it. I was sitting in front of and old black and white tv, eating my lunch, when the announcement came on.

We lived in that house until late ’64. My dad, who was in the Air Force, was transferred to Guam.

I may have forgotten some of the places that I have lived or friends that I have made, but I will never forget that house, Tony, or Bellinger Hill Elementary School.
Sometimes when something evokes various and specific memories of my youth, I feel like I am in a corporeal time machine. A dreamlike ghost world. I am sleepwalking through the past.

My sister and I on the front steps of the house.


6 thoughts on “Sleepwalking Through the Past

  1. I LOVED this! It was a very enjoyable trip to the past. It also brought back similar memories from MY childhood that are very similar. Wonderful, really. Pics were nice too.
    PS: I also learned what diaphanous meant!!

  2. Went to Bellinger Hill 1960-69. The school song was written by one of the teachers there, I think her name was Mrs. King, who also played the piano when we sung it. The words I remember are:
    Bellinger Hill’s the school for me
    To her I pledge my loyalty
    Here is my heart, here is my hand,
    With Bellinger Hill I’ll take my stand.

    Hail, Bellinger Hill. Hail, hail to thee.
    This is the school that I love best.
    Hail, hail to thee.

    We lived just a few blocks away on Cramer Ave for the entire 9 years I was there.and attended Calvary Baptist Church (1 block away from the school).

  3. Uh..correction. I attended from 1960-66. Was in Baldwin Jr. High 66-69. Don’t want anyone to think I spent 9 years in grade school. 🙂

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