PHV In-Depth

PHV In-Depth #4: The Playgrounds of PHV

Another thing that really stands out in my mind about Patrick Henry Village is the large number of playgrounds that were available.  It seemed like there was a different playground for every few buildings.  Scrolling around the satellite view it’s not quite that extreme, but I was able to count 20 different playgrounds at a quick glance.  That doesn’t count the numerous soccer fields and schoolyard playgrounds.  The building we lived in during most of our time in PHV actually didn’t have a playground nearby; it only had a simple sandbox.  However, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, we had easy access to Behind the Fence which was probably the best playground of them all.

The playgrounds defined sort of a home turf for the kids living nearby.  Each playground was unique in some respect, so when you felt the need for adventure you could just walk a short distance–perhaps venturing outside the carefully planned boundaries set by your parents–and have a new set of equipment to play on.  I remember feeling like a bit of an outsider when playing at some other building’s playground, and it was easy to notice outsiders who wandered into playgrounds on your home turf.

Two playgrounds essentially defined our home turf, so these are the ones I will focus on although I think my descriptions probably apply somewhat to all of the playgrounds of the late 1970s/early 1980s.  During our first stint in PHV, after school we would go to Mrs. Taylor’s apartment where she ran a day care for a lot of kids — so the big playground south of her building was essentially our home turf.  And during our second stint in PHV, we lived just south of the smaller playground which was next to that bigger one.  So the two playgrounds you can see in this satellite view are the ones I recall most vividly.

The first thing I notice in this view is that both playgrounds have been entirely overhauled since my day…not a single shred of the old play equipment still remains.  And I think the playgrounds I remember still had a few remains of an even older set of playground equipment.  In my day, the playgrounds mostly consisted of brightly colored plastic structures; they seemed very modern at the time.  But the larger playground in the view above also had two old metallic swing sets, and also some metallic teeter-totters (or see-saws, or whatever name you know them by).  I recall the teeter-totters having several layers of flaking paint and the wooden seats were cracked and sometimes one side was completely broken off so it wasn’t really useable.  One cruel game on these teeter-totters was to get the kid on the other end high into the air and then suddenly leap off of your seat, causing them to crash to the ground with a painful landing.  I think we called this a cherry bomb?

I found the following picture from 1968–four years before I was born–which I think might just be the larger playground that was part of my home turf.  You can see teeter-totters, which may be the same ones I’m remembering, but there seems to be a big open area where I recall the more modern plastic structures being (click the picture to go to the page where I found it, there is some discussion following the picture).


Before I describe the plastic equipment I’ve been referring to, let me just take a quick aside to talk about the bench that the girl is perched on.  This bench brings back a surprising number of memories, as I think this same style of bench was still common a decade later when I lived in PHV.  You can see the rusted metal support pole, which is how I recall the teeter-totters looking.  But it’s the gaps between the boards which really call to me — I’m pretty sure they were a known hazard because as you were playing on these benches, jumping on and off of them and who knows what else, it was possible to get your fingers wedged in between the boards and yelp in pain when they were suddenly bent backwards.  Or maybe we would stick our fingers through the boards while waiting for the bus to take us the PX/Commissary area (which I described in my Shopping blog entry).  Maybe we used to bunny-hop our bikes up onto the seat of these benches?  I also remember meeting a friend at the playground and we both were toting small boom boxes with cassettes of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”, and we sat on a bench at the large playground–perhaps the very bench in the above picture–and took turns letting each other blare the song.  And an older kid came by and complemented us on our choice of music, and that made us feel cool.

One other quick aside — in the satellite view, note the grassy area just north of the large playground, where you can see a concrete picnic table and a few small trees.  This used to be one of the major marble courts of PHV.  It was just a barren packed-earth area with several pots dug into the ground, as I described in detail in my very first entry of this blog about the marbles phenomenon.  We also used to play a game called Red Light Green Light here, although Wikipedia says it is more commonly known as Statues.  One person would stand near the building facing the others.  They would turn their back to the others and yell “Green light!” and everyone would run to try to tag that person.  Then they would turn to face the other players and yell “Red light!” and everyone had to stop immediately.  If they saw you moving after they declared red light, then you would be sent back to the starting line to try again.  When someone finally reached the caller, they would become the new caller in the next game.

At any rate, back to the playgrounds.  You’ll notice in the 1968 picture that the ground is all sand, and that’s how it was in my day as well.  However, the current playgrounds appear to be covered with the soft rubbery material which is a common safety feature these days.  At this point in my blog is where a rant about how kids today have it easy might be inserted.  Anyway, it’s amusing that all of these playgrounds seem to have sand leaking from underneath the rubbery surface, as if the old playground is trying to reclaim its territory.

The first piece of modern-feeling playground equipment that I can remember is a tall red plastic structure shaped a bit like a wide, squat teepee but with a circular crow’s nest at the top rather than coming to a point.   I think the railing of the crow’s nest was orange plastic.  There were three openings in the sides so that you could go underneath, and there was nothing inside except for a metal pole in the middle.  Essentially, this structure was a slide where you could slide in any direction.  I was about to say that the only way to the top was to scramble up the sloped sides, using the humps of the three openings for aid, but as I’m writing this I remember that one side of the structure had a set of small steps molded into it.  It was probably more fun to scramble up the slope, just like most kids will try to walk backward up a traditional slide rather than using the supplied steps.

Two memories of this structure stand out, and neither one is all that pleasant.  The first is that the enclosed area underneath the structure always smelled of urine, and it could be hot in there during the summer.  The second is that we boys would lay on our stomachs on the crow’s nest at the top and spit on the slide part, and then it would be a race to see whose spit could make it down the length of the slide first.  No wonder little girls think that little boys are gross.

The other main plastic structure in the big playground was more complex.  Like all of this equipment, the plastic was a hodgepodge of bright red, orange, and yellow pieces.  It was a variation  of the common piece of playground equipment which includes a way to get up, a few things to do while you’re up there, and a slide to get back down.   The current playground has something very much like this, although it looks completely different.  The structure I remember didn’t have a traditional staircase to get up — instead, it had a vertical plastic cylinder with a short doorway in one side.  This red cylinder had circular holes at various intervals, and you would use them to climb up the middle to the platform above.  I recall this not being the easiest feat, perhaps because I tried to use holes on both sides of the cylinder at once and my limbs were barely long enough for the task.

One side of this structure was rounded like a partial dome, and you could also climb up the outside using similar holes.  Actually, I think perhaps it had some extruding bumps similar to handholds on a modern rockclimbing wall, because I seem to remember perching on the outside of this domed part with my feet strategically placed on the bumps in order to hold myself up.  Yes, it’s becoming more clear now — there was also a slide area on this domed part, so you would climb up the bumps and slide back down.  Because it was dome-shaped, the slide eventually became vertical and there was a very short freefall onto the sand below.

But if you took the cylindrical ladder to the platform, I recall two ways to get back down — a curving slide wound around another cylinder, and a large slide of polished metal wide enough for two or three kids to go down abreast.  I think this slide may have had a ripple in the middle to make it a bit more interesting.

The smaller playground to the east had one main piece of equipment that I can recall, and it was clearly from the same manufacturer because it also consisted of red, yellow, and orange plastic pieces.  It was essentially a set of modular tunnels, exactly like what you’d get for a pet hamster except they were opaque.  There were tube sections and intersection pieces so that you could fit them together into any design, although at this playground the tubes were just formed into a square with an extending arm or two.  The intersection pieces were your entryway into the tubes, as they had circular openings in every direction, including up — you could stand in one of these and your upper body would be visible.

As this playground also had a surface of sand, it inevitably made its way inside the tubes and you were typically crawling on sand while inside.  These may have also had the occasional scent of urine, which is a little disturbing.  But more than crawling around inside them, I remember playing “tube tag” on top of them.  It was a dangerous game where you would essentially run around on top of the tubes trying to catch or avoid someone else.  Each time you came to the end of a tube, you had to make a little leap to the next tube because of the open intersection piece blocking your way.  It was easy to slip off of these rounded tubes or miscalculate a leap, and I’m surprised there weren’t more injuries than there were.

One amusing thing I remember about this smaller playground is that some older kids came by and threw a stink bomb against the tubes.  I didn’t know exactly what that was at the time, but I think it was a small vial of horribly smelling liquid you might pick up at a novelty store along with chattering teeth or a handshake buzzer.  I can remember this playground being completely abandoned for a few days until the stench subsided.

All the other playgrounds around PHV had similar equipment, but always put together in some unique way probably just to fit the dimensions of a particular location.  So wandering around PHV, you could come across a lot of familiar-yet-new places to play, as long as the regular kids at that playground didn’t give too many angry glares at the perceived invaders.

But kids are notorious for finding things to play with that were never intended for that purpose, and two such things come to mind.  The first happened in the grassy area between these two playgrounds, whenever we could get our hands on large cardboard box (perhaps gleaned from some of the dumpster diving I’ve mentioned elsewhere).  We would lay down inside the box and just roll in order to move the box across the grass like a tank’s treads.  I think sometimes we had multiple kids inside the box at the same time, and the last kid would have to roll fast enough to keep up or else be tossed around by the rising part of the box.

The other makeshift play item I remember has to do with the large field near the church and library which you can see in this satellite view.  There is a huge playground at the southern part of this field now, but in my day the entire thing was just an open grassy field.  For some reason there always seemed to be a few giant wooden spools in this field, like the kind you’d wrap large cables around.  I don’t know if they were meant to be makeshift picnic tables or just decoration or what, but they were fun to play with.  We’d tip them on their end and then try to roll them across the field.  I think at least once we found one with some boards missing from the central column, so we’d try to climb in there as a great hiding place.

Categories: PHV In-Depth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

PHV In-Depth #3: A Typical Apartment Building

As usual with this blog, these are my memories of being an elementary school kid in Patrick Henry Village in the late 70s and early 80s.  I’m always interested in hearing about how things have changed or where my memory has drifted a bit from reality.  In this in-depth post I’ll be linking to several zoomed-in Google Maps satellite views as I find a good example of a particular feature.

First off, I feel like the term “apartment building” is probably not the correct military term for the PHV housing.  Perhaps barracks is more correct?  But there were other facilities around Heidelberg such as Patton Barracks and Campbell Barracks, which were workplaces rather than residential areas, so that’s probably not right either.   Oh, I think I have it — they were called quarters.

The Stairwell

For the most part, each building consisted of three stairwells for access to the living quarters.   Click here for a good view of the front of one of these buildings.  I recall that each stairwell had a small, flat awning covering the door and somehow it was possible to climb up on top by using handrails or drainpipes or whatever was nearby.  I don’t remember ever getting on top of one of these, but for some reason I remember a layer of gravel on the top so perhaps I climbed up high enough to at least see what was up there.  I think other kids would sit up there and dangle their feet over the edge.

There were two apartments per floor for each stairwell, so that makes 18 quarters per building.  The front wall of the stairwell consisted of windows overlooking the parking lot, and I recall resting my forehead against the glass to try and look straight down and see who was down by the door.  The floors were white tile and really carried sound, so we were always told not to yell or slam the door.  The stairwell also went down one flight into the basement, and in our building there were exposed pipes cutting across the ceiling here.  We played a dangerous game where you would stand on a step and jump to grab onto the pipes and swing before dropping down to the basement floor.  We would challenge ourselves by moving up one step at a time, each step increasing the distance between you and the pipes.  I’m surprised we never pulled one of the pipes out of the wall and caused a serious plumbing issue.

I don’t recall there being elevators in these buildings at all, so if you were on the third floor then you had a lot of steps to climb every day.  However, the satellite view shows that many of the buildings now have these strange white additions in the back; you can see some examples here.  These didn’t exist on any buildings back in my day, and I can’t imagine what they might be.  My first thought was that they might be some sort of add-on elevator shaft, but they don’t correspond with the locations of the stairwells and it seems like there are too many of them for that purpose.  If anyone can explain these, please comment on this post!

One last thing I recall about the stairwells is that you could look up or down in the middle, between the railings, and see up and down the length of the entire building.  As distasteful as it sounds now, one game we used to play would be to go to the top of the stairwell and then spit down this small central open area.  The goal was to try and hit the basement floor, but it was tough because you’d often hit one of the railings on the way down.

The Quarters

We lived in two different units in PHV, and as far as I can recall they had the same layout.  They were at least partially hardwood floor, and may not have had any carpeted area at all.  The door opened up to the living room, with the dining room off to the other side.  The kitchen had a pass-through window into the dining room. There was one bathroom and two bedrooms, so I had to share a room with my younger brother.  The rooms were heated by radiators, where you turned a knob on each to control the hot water (or was it steam?) flowing through the metal structure.  I’m not sure if we actually did bang our heads on these radiators sometimes or if our mother just warned us about that possible danger, but I do remember thinking of them as a bit of a hazard.

The Attic

The function of the attic space has always been a bit of a mystery to me because I remember it being used in different ways.  We kids used to climb the stairwell to the fourth floor and try to open the doors there.  Usually they were locked, but sometimes they were open and in those cases we felt compelled to play up there, running the length of the place and yelling just to hear our voices echo.  I recall the area up there being one giant tiled room spanning from stairwell to stairwell, with several windows jutting out on either side as you can see in the picture at the top of this post.  One time we got the bright idea to make a paper airplane and throw it out the window, just to watch it go all the way to the ground.  Before long we were sending whole squadrons of aircraft down to the lawn below, although some of them got stuck on the tile roof or in the gutter.

I recall that sometimes this area was used as sort of an overflow storage area, and I also have the distinct memory of a few girls playing with a large collection of pink Barbie dolls and accessories up here one time.  I don’t know if they brought them from their apartment, or if they were actually stored up there.

We had two different grandmothers come to visit us from the States, and they both stayed up in the attic and came down to our apartment in the mornings.  This makes me think that perhaps the attic was sort of a common area and maybe you could request or rent the usage of that space for some amount of time.  I don’t have any memory of a bed or any furniture being up there, but such things must have been moved in as needed.

The Basement

Each building had a long basement hallway running the length of the building.  One side of this hallway had a series of storage rooms which were assigned to the apartment units above.  I recall these wooden doors being painted a pale green and having a small window covered with a metal mesh, with an identifying number painted on each.  Sometimes you would find one of these doors open when the room was not in use, which of course gave us a new place to play in.

The other side of the hallway had an open doorway leading to either one or two large laundry rooms.  I remember the washers and dryers ringing the walls of the room, with folding tables in the middle.  As I’m writing this, I’m just remembering that these rooms had small windows at ground level and it was possible to climb up on top of one of the machines and then crawl out to the back of one of the buildings.  I think we used this “secret entrance” in both directions, probably for no real reason except that it was cool because it was different and parents couldn’t do it.

At each end of the long hallway you could find a heavy door which opened to the rear of the building, where you then climbed a set of concrete steps to ground level.  When playing hide-and-seek or whatever else, I remember it being common to enter and exit through both sides of the building in order to confuse your pursuers.  This view is a good shot of the stairs leading to the back basement doors, although strangely this building is missing the sidewalk from the northern stairwell around to the front.

The Coal Room

At the time I lived in PHV, at least, these buildings were heated with coal and on one end of each building was a metal hatch low on the wall which opened to a large basement area filled with mountains of coal so that you couldn’t even see the floor.  I think coal trucks used to pull up to these doors and just dump their payload directly into that room.  Sometimes you’d find one of these hatches open, which of course mandated that you must crawl down into the room and run around on the piles of coal.  It was very easy to get black marks on your skin and clothing from doing this, which was a sure way to get in trouble with the parents.  I remember it being a scary thing to descend into this room because it wasn’t always certain that you’d be able to climb back out.  I know on some occasions you needed a friend to grab your hands and pull you back out, if the coal near the window wasn’t high enough to get you close.  Strangely, I don’t really remember a regular door for entering this room, either from inside or outside, but I assume there must have been one.  I also don’t remember any sort of furnace or anything where this coal would be shoveled, but again, it seems like something along those lines must have existed.

In looking around with the satellite view, I’m not able to find one of these metal doors.  Either they’ve been sealed up if coal is no longer in use, or else they just aren’t clearly visible via these views.

The Dumpsters

Every building had a pair of big metal dumpsters at one end where you’d take your trash.  They were just sitting on a concrete slab where a trash truck could pull up and empty them, but the satellite view tells me that this has now changed to become one or more areas surrounded by a green fence, as you can see here.  These dumpsters were sources of adventure to us kids, and I can recall dumpster diving on many occasions and sometimes finding cool stuff.  One time we found several unused rolls of toilet paper, and an older kid taught us how you could throw these rolls and have a long tail of toilet paper extending out behind.  It goes without saying that we made a big mess of the area that day.

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you know that we kids liked to climb everything in sight, and the dumpsters were no exception.  By sliding open one of the doors halfway up either side, you could climb up onto that ledge and from there boost yourself up onto the top.  I don’t know what we did once we got up there, but I know we climbed them countless times.  In fact, we threw those toilet paper streamers from the top of a dumpster so we could maximize our distance.

The Back Yard

For the most part, the rear of a building was just an open grassy area between buildings.  However, some buildings might have a kid’s sandbox or maybe a few picnic tables back there.  I believe that most buildings had a slab of asphalt at one end which would have a bunch of metal poles from which you could run wire and air dry your laundry.  I can’t find a single example of this in the satellite view, so I assume all of these laundry areas have since been removed.  Each pole was actually a bit like an upside-down U, where you’d have two vertical bars which were connected by a long horizontal bar.  As was our tradition, we quickly learned how to climb up on this horizontal bar and perch there while talking with friends.  I think some kids would do a trick where they locked one leg around the pole and then would spin forward or backward all the way around, but that was always too scary for me.  I do recall just grabbing onto one of the vertical bars and walking around in circles while leaning outward so that the pole was all that kept you from falling, and I distinctly remember the flakes of beige paint that would often come off into your hand while doing this.

Categories: PHV In-Depth | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

PHV In-Depth #2: The High School…or is it the Middle School?

The follow-along map for this in-depth post, found here, is what I’ve always thought was the high school.  But in digging up info on the area I learned that this building is apparently now the middle school, and high school students are bussed to Mark Twain Village.  So either the schools have been reorganized since my time, or else I’ve had the wrong impression all these years and it was always the middle school.  All of those “big kids” probably looked the same to me anyway.

When looking at the map, the first thing that strikes me is actually the sidewalk that circles the building.  It was at least partially made of gray hourglass-shaped bricks which were particularly smooth under our bicycles, so it was a popular riding area.  We would challenge each other to try to ride all the way around the building without ever touching the handlebars, a trick which was easier to pull off on the nice, flat surface.  I recall this type of pavement being relatively unique around PHV at the time, but from digging up recent photos it looks like they’ve since used it all over the place.  I know the sidewalks generally didn’t have them at the time because I used to play the “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” game while walking to and from school.  Here’s a picture I found where these bricks are clearly visible, although they don’t look as fresh and clean as I remember around the school.

As you can see on the map, the school is one large central building with two smaller buildings to the west.  In between those two buildings, along the west edge, there used to be a dumpster area.  It was enclosed by a big metal gate that slid open and closed on a wheeled track, and usually this gate was left unlocked.  This was fascinating to us and we used to play there a lot, pretending that it was the gate to a fortress or secret base.  The garbage smell of the dumpsters inside didn’t negate the neatness of the gate back then.

There are only two occasions that I recall going inside this school.  If I remember correctly, there was a gymnasium in the southernmost of the smaller buildings and we wandered in through an open side door and found a basketball game in progress.  Also, I briefly took a judo class in a different gymnasium inside this school–at least I remember it being a second gymnasium inside the larger building–but I lost interest pretty quickly when I found that I just couldn’t flip my overweight partner even though everyone else in the class could do the flip.

It’s hard to tell on the map but just south of the southern smaller building, immediately across the circling road,  is a grassy area which is actually a small hill.  I remember a lot of kids sledding down this hill in the winter, which seems strange to me now because it doesn’t look big enough for that.  Maybe PHV is very flat and that was one of the few hills we could find.  I don’t think that the road with the white dashed line existed back then, so maybe this grassy hill was once bigger.

If you scroll the map a little to the west you can see a large concrete area with basketball hoops and some fading white painted circles on one end.  These white areas were actually tetherball courts.  Each circle had a metal pole in the middle, although it appears that all but two of the eight poles have been removed.  I also remember these painted areas being new and pristine.  Again, it’s hard to tell elevation from the map view but the grassy area on the north is actually a hill sloping down into the paved area.  Another fun thing we used to do on our bicycles was race down this hill into the tetherball area and then extend one arm and grab one of the poles.  You’d then rocket around the pole for as long as you could hold on.  I’m sure there were some wipeouts associated with this game.  If there’s one thing I remember about riding a bike as a kid, it’s that you were always crashing and bending your handlebars and then you’d have to brace the front wheel between your legs and push the handles back into place.

Scrolling the map further west, there are a couple of square buildings with central courtyards and a nice park-like environment surrounding them.  I have no idea what these buildings are, as they didn’t exist in my day.  From the look of them, I’d guess that they’re some sort of community center or maybe even more school buildings.  Back in the late 70s, this area was an empty field.  Sometimes people would fly kites here.  But if you traveled all the way back to the far end of the field, along the western edge of PHV defined by a long bushy hill, you would find the BMX track.  It may have been built as an official attraction, but I’ve always had the impression that some enterprising kids with shovels created it over time.  It was a roughly oval dirt track with a lot of ups and downs and some jumps.  Older kids would race around the track and get airborne in some spots.  Alas, it was a bit too demanding at my age.  I used to try to ride the track but wouldn’t have the strength to get my bike up some of the larger hills so I’d have to jump off and walk it.  But it was fascinating and always fun to give it a try on the relatively rare occasion that we strayed this far from home since our apartment building was not near the school.

To the northwest of the main school building are a pair of baseball fields.  These may have changed somewhat over the years, but I remember baseball fields being precisely in this spot because my Tee Ball team used to practice and play games there.  I don’t recall being a particularly good player, but I loved to don my red and white Mets uniform and wear my cleats.  I remember the coach or maybe one of the parents had a van–a big full-size van, back before anybody knew what a minivan was–and sometimes the team would meet at this field, pile into the van, and then take a ride over to Mark Twain Village to play an opponent.   Actually, I think that perhaps our uniforms were two shades of blue and we were known as the Blue Jays.  But I did play on a Mets team elsewhere — such is the life of an Army brat, mixing up memories of the many places you’ve lived.

There’s one last odd PHV memory to note from this general area.  If you scroll the map east and a little south from the school, you can see a large building with a reddish parking lot.  These didn’t exist in my day, it was just an open grass and treed area between the duplexes along South Gettysburg and the highway.  But somewhere near the corner of South Gettysburg and South Lexington was an odd little stone building sitting off a bit by itself.   I recall there being a few doors on either side, as if they were separate storage bays, but these doors were significantly elevated off the ground.  You had to climb several concrete steps to reach a landing that ran the length of this small building.  There was open space underneath the landing, making it a good place to hide.  I think the doors may have actually just been recessed areas, as if they used to be doors but had since been permanently sealed with stone blocks.  I have no idea what the purpose of this building may have been, but my young mind always thought of it as something similar to a small train depot, where you’d climb up onto the platform to then board.  But if there were ever tracks running along here, there was no trace of them at that time.

But the odd memory is not of the building itself, but rather what we found there one day.  Now, there were a lot of snails in PHV.  If you went out early on a dew-covered morning you would find them all over the place, and pretty much anytime you could find empty snail shells without having to look too hard.  Perhaps this explains the escargot on the menu at the Officers Club.  One day our normal group of kids wandered over to this building and we found an enormous pile of grass on the landing, leaning against one of the recessed doorways.  Getting closer, you could see that several small alcoves had been formed in the grass clippings, and then we discovered that there were snails all over this grassy structure.  It appeared that somebody had ripped up a lot of the grass from the surrounding area and created some sort of snail hotel!  As we were admiring the handiwork, I recall another group of kids showing up and telling us in a somewhat threatening demeanor to leave it alone and they had made it earlier that day.  They were a bit older and we didn’t want any trouble, so we left.  But for some reason that odd snail hotel, and the time that must have gone into building it, has always stuck in my mind.

Categories: PHV In-Depth | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

PHV In-Depth #1: The Elementary School

For this In-Depth post, follow along with this map of the Elementary School.

The Main Building

The school area shown in the map has changed a lot since I attended in the late 1970s, but is still easy to recognize.  In the middle is the main dark-roofed building, which I actually don’t remember much about since most of my years were spent in an outlying building I’ll cover in a bit.  The center of this building was the gymnasium, which doubled as the lunch room and had a stage for special presentations.  I remember being thoroughly embarrassed in this room when our class had to show our parents how we’d learned to belly dance.  My lunch every day included a pouch of Capri-Sonne, which doubled as a rocket launcher once you’d emptied it of juice.  Just blow into the straw to inflate, position the straw so that it’s only barely inside the pouch, and then slam your fist down to start the cafeteria mayhem.  After returning to the States I was shocked to find this same drink called Capri Sun and that Americans pronounced “Capri” with the emphasis on the second syllable instead of the first, and “Sun” didn’t seem right because it only had one syllable. To this day, my brain still thinks “CAPree SONnah” when I see Capri Sun on the store shelf.  In hunting an image for this post, I learned that Capri-Sonne actually originated in Germany in 1969 and came to America in 1981.

My 4th grade class was near the northwest corner of this main building, on the first floor.  I think the teacher’s name was Mrs. Klar, or maybe Klarr.  Oddly, I don’t recall much about this large building other than the gym and that particular classroom.

The Outlying Classrooms

My 1st and 2nd grade years were spent in the T-shaped building with a green roof, in the upper left of the map.  There was probably a special name for this building, but nothing that I can conjure up.  There were exactly three classes in this building:  Ms. Stasovich’s 1st grade class in the north wing, Mr. Moore’s 2nd grade in the south wing, and then a 3rd grade class in the east wing.  I never knew much about that 3rd grade classroom since I lived in Texas for 3rd grade, but that’s a story outside the scope of this blog.  Now, these surely weren’t the only classes for those particular grades within the school system.  I don’t know exactly why we were separated out, but at some point I got the impression that it was part of an experiment to see if children would learn better in a smaller environment.  Perhaps I was a lab rat?

In 1st grade, at least once our classroom was visited by health professionals bearing the most foul toothpaste I ever recall coming in contact with.  If memory serves, it was a dark gray color and very gritty as if it were mixed with sand.  Right there in class, we were all required to brush our teeth with it.  It was probably the most traumatic experience of that year, and I remember much wailing and gnashing of teeth until one by one we kids would finally just get it over with.  I remember the stuff being so gritty that it felt like you were scraping the enamel off your teeth.  I can only assume this was part of some health program to ensure proper fluoride protection or something similar.

On some regular schedule, a special teacher would come in for an hour or so to teach us the German language.  I also remember doing some traditional German dances and similar cultural things during that time.  Alas, all that really remains of that language schooling is the ability to count to 12 before I have to stop and think about what comes next.  Once I’ve thought about it, I can count to around 100 close enough to be understood, although I’d probably still confuse “und” with the “y” I learned later during high school Spanish.  In fact, consulting this page on counting in German I’ve just discovered that I’ve completely mixed German and Spanish and would probably get some confused looks from native German speakers.

Another tradition in this outlying building was to bring all three classes together for a singalong.  I’m not sure how often this happened, perhaps monthly, but it was a great honor to be chosen as the person who stands at the front and flips the large pieces of paper containing the lyrics.  Among others, we used to sing Debby Boone’s You Light Up My Life and what we always referred to as The Coke Song.  And yes, those selections sound as strange to me as they probably do to you.

The Old Playground

On the map there’s an area in between the main building and the outlying building with some gray-roofed buildings and what looks like some temporary classrooms.  In my day, this area was a giant sand pit full of playground equipment.  There was a tall metal slide which always got too hot to touch in the sun, and we kids were more interested in sliding down the support poles like firemen than in using the slide itself.  There was also a large set of metal monkey bars which I’m sure were the origin of many bumps and bruises; I think such equipment is frowned upon these days?  On the sidewalks connecting the sand area to the main building, girls would be jumping rope and comparing their binders full of Scratch-n-Sniff stickers.  This was the era of the original Battlestar Galactica television series, and a friend and I used to run around this general area making up our own stories as Apollo and Starbuck, and arguing over who got to have Cassiopeia as his girlfriend.

To the east of this area is an odd paved section which I’m guessing is for loading and unloading school buses.  Back then, it was just a grassy area where kids would play soccer or do whatever else.  For some reason I remember having deep conversations about various Atari 2600 games in this area, perhaps while we were supposed to be playing soccer in gym class.

Behind the main building was a large paved area which served as basketball courts; it looks like nothing has changed in that regard.  However, I distinctly remember there was a large map of the United States painted on part of this concrete slab, and it used to be fun to go find the State you were born in and stand on it.  In fact, that might have actually been a class activity so that we could see where everyone hailed from.  That map may have disappeared under one of the many additional buildings that exist back there now.  Further south from this paved area was a second playground which my classes never visited much; it looks like it has been greatly expanded and now serves as the only playground for the school.

The Other Building

The only other building I remember much about is the one in the south close to South Gettysburg Avenue…it has a gray roof with what looks like a yellow outline.  My kindergarten class was somewhere in this building. All I recall about that class was that each table of 5 or 6 kids got to choose a name for their group, and ours was the Cookie Monster group.  What interests me more about this area of the campus is the crosswalk out front.  If you were lucky, you could be chosen to serve as a crosswalk guard for a week, and I got chosen once!  You get to leave class a little early to get ready for the rush of kids walking home, and you wore this brightly colored belt-and-shoulder-strap contraption.  You also got a handheld sign with a green Go on one side and red Stop on the other.  I don’t remember receiving any actual instruction on how to control traffic, but somehow we managed and it was an exciting duty.  This special duty also included something related to raising and lowering the American flag on the big pole outside of the main building, but I think an adult had to help with that.

A Few Miscellaneous Notes

On the other side of the crosswalk you can see a small patch of grass with a V-shaped hedge.  This is where I got into my first and really my only fist fight.  It wasn’t much of a fight really, hardly any contact at all, but I vividly remember the ring of spectators chanting for blood.  What were we fighting about?  I mentioned it already — it was to determine who got to have Cassiopeia as their girlfriend while playing Battlestar Galactica!

At the southern edge of the map selection you can see part of the track, which looks largely unchanged.  I think weekly, our class would come out to this track and run laps.  The teacher had a magic marker and she would put a dot on the back of your hand each time you came around, and I always took it as a personal challenge to get the most dots in class.  Then we’d go back to the classroom and record these dots on a big chart.  If what I hear about modern schooling is true, I’m guessing such a thing wouldn’t happen anymore because it would promote winners and losers.  Another great honor in those years was to be chosen to hold the marker and give everyone dots, although it was a double-edged sword because you didn’t accumulate any dots yourself that day.

Categories: PHV In-Depth | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Blog at