Over the summer I had the chance to write some articles for the Philomath Express while the editor was on vacation. One of those stories led me to Philomath Middle School. I had not been to the school in over 20 years.
I was to meet the source for my assignment in the gym. As I entered the school from the side parking lot, the doors seemed smaller. The hallway seemed smaller. Everything seemed smaller. Or maybe I was just bigger.
I walked past where my old locker was and remembered the collage of clippings from Seventeen Magazine I had taped to the inside of the door. Most of which were probably of Home Improvement’s Jonathan Taylor Thomas. He was so dreamy to my 11-year-old self.
Painted in the hallway I saw a familiar drawing — a muscular Indian, hands in the air, a painted face. It looked to me like the art of Daniel Bain. I remembered when our class voted on it. We chose that drawing to be the one for the cover of our yearbook. A smile came to my face as I remembered him, and how he left us too soon.
When I made my way to the gym I realized how, like me, it too had grown up. It had new, fancy bleachers that replaced the old, clunky wooden ones. I recalled how loud those wooden bleachers were when they were pushed back into place against the wall. The new ones now retreat in near silence at the push of a button.
As I continued on the day’s assignment, I headed toward the music room. I spent a lot of time in that room with Mrs. Crocker as I learned to play the trumpet. I saw the back row in which I sat, often in second chair. I thought about my friend, Rachael, who always seemed to land in that coveted first chair seat.
As I continued around the hallways, the library prompted me to remember the day of the O.J. Simpson verdict. On that day we gathered in the library, rows of seats set out where tables usually stood, projection screen pulled down. We watched with the rest of the nation as the “guilty” or “not guilty” decision was made. When we heard it, I remember seeing the faces of our teachers who stood among us. They looked shocked. I was shocked. Many of us were.
Down the hall from the library was my fifth-grade homeroom. I used to get “hall passes” to the bathroom, but, really, I wanted to walk by the neighboring classroom where a cute boy was. I would slow down as I passed the open door and pretend I didn’t mean to catch his eye. I chuckled as I recalled this because that same boy is now my boyfriend. This month marks our four-year anniversary.
When done with the day’s assignment, I left through the same doors in which I had come. I looked up again at Dan’s drawing, saying goodbye to an old friend. With thoughts of life and death and all the unknown in between, I remembered another Brave no longer with us. As I drove past the front of the school, where the buses line up at the end of the day, I saw the tree planted for Nicole Gee. It stands today as another memory of someone gone too soon.
After my visit to the middle school, my trip down memory lane continued. I was added to the Facebook group “Mr. Mortlock’s Battle with Cancer.” The group of 2,049 people began to share fond memories of the school’s seventh-grade science teacher. I imagine on the days that he could, Mr. Mortlock read some of them.
I can’t help but think of what a wonderful gift the Mortlock family gave him — the gift of a forum where people could share the impact he made on their lives. I should only hope something so meaningful can happen to us all — to leave this world knowing we had changed it, if only in the small portion of it that we call home.
As I think about Dan’s drawing on the wall and Nicole’s tree in the lawn, I wonder if it’s time to add another tribute to the school’s grounds. Post after post in Mr. Mortlock’s group proved that his PIADIAMCBLASFAA lessons stuck with us all, even though many of us forgot how to spell it. To me, a mural of this phrase somewhere in the school seems to be the perfect reminder of another person gone but not forgotten in our community.