When I was a little girl, I lived on the campus of a small Christian school. My dad was a teacher/administrator there, and Mom held the same job at home. My sisters and I were staff brats. The Lidbury girls.

The campus was housed in an old airforce training facility. The original buildings had been remodeled into staff housing, student dormitories, and the like. The building that my family lived in, at least the one I remember the best, was called The Red Barn, because it had, at one time, been painted bright red. We shared the building with an interesting variety of neighbours: the Olson’s and their art room, the Brazle’s with all those big boys, the Young’s who gave out the best Hallowe’en candy, the Pennington’s with even more boys, Miss Torkelson who walked everywhere so briskly and spoke so precisely, and others who came and went over the years.

Stretching the length of the campus was a long sidewalk. The Red Barn was at one end of the sidewalk and at the other end lived the playground and my best friend.

Along the sidewalk trail were scattered other buildings of less importance to me at the time: the school, the chapel, the dormitories, the school cafeteria, the Student’s Centre. But as a kid it was pretty much all about me, the other kids, and the playground.

And it developed over time that, if you were at one end of this sidewalk and you were referring to something at the other end, you said The Other End.

As in, Mom, I’m going to The Other End to play.

No matter which end of the sidewalk you were at, the other end became The Other End. It made sense at the time. And when I was a little girl, it was my whole world. Two ends of a sidewalk and the journey between.

It has been one week since the decision was made, officially made, to close the doors of Western Christian College. Like many, I’ve spent a lot of time this past week remembering Western, and wondering about what it was that made it so special.

Although the school moved several times over its sixty-seven year existence, the north Weyburn campus is the place that lives in my heart. This is where I learned to ride a bike, climb a tree, and float a homemade raft in a ditch in the spring. This is where I first heard the music of skate blades ringing on ice, as we chased each other around the rink and practiced our twirls and our wrist shots with equal dedication. This is where I learned about friendship, both from making my own and watching my parents with theirs. This is where I grew up.

My friends and I shared the best playground in the history of playgrounds. We rode through the clouds and back to earth on the most gigantic slide ever. We swung into the heavens, legs pumping, hearts racing, on swings that would be outlawed today. We dangled by our knees from monkey bars, modestly crossing our arms over our chests so our shirts wouldn’t end up around our necks and we envied the boys who could just strip their shirts right off. We made sandcastle homes for garter snakes and hide-and-seeked in the billowing sails of Mrs. Harvey’s sheets drying on the line and wore dandelion jewelry. We pestered the boys into letting the girls play football with them. We peeked at the college students and imagined ourselves one day being as grown up as they seemed.

It was a sweet place, sweet and safe and kind of like that village that people talk about. That village that is so important in the raising of children. I had friends and cousins close by, and a grandma who lived in town. I spent the longest, laziest summer afternoons reading about those other girls: Ann out there on her island, and Laura and Mary and their little house, and my favourite tomboy, Trixie Beldon. I learned What Katy Did Next, and I slept over at friends’ houses, and day after blissful day we recklessly sunburned ourselves at the swimming pool in town.

And I grew up.

Then we left and the world got a little bigger and when I came back in grade 11, I was a different person and the campus seemed different, too. It was home but … not. And the teachers, who had been neighbours, were … not. The familiar clothes I had worn before had been outgrown. And I watched the kids on the playground, and the slide seemed a little smaller and the swings were just swings, and the dandelions, well, they were weeds of course.

Because I was growing up.

I left again and I traveled some and went to school and did some things wrong and some things right. I became a wife and a mother, and then I came back.

I was older and the school had moved away. My old house and the school building and the student’s centre and the swings and the slide were all gone. There were remnants, though, to which I could point. The old art room had been converted into the old art teacher’s home. The Peterson’s were still there, and Miss T with them. If I tried hard and kind of squinted my eyes, I could still remember it all, but just barely.

This time I lived in town with the husband and the babies, and the church building, that place I had come to three times a week as a child and again as a young woman, became the home of my family. The children sat in my old Sunday School classrooms. Mr. Willett still led the songs and the preacher spoke from the same place, and even though many had gone, some remained. My best friend from the days of swings and slides was there, and Arbutus still prepared the communion trays each Sunday. So some things were the same, and some were different.

And this is the lesson I’ve learned, I guess. That a place is really just a place, and things change and people change. The moments pass and the children who yesterday were babies are tomorrow, parents of their own. Time does march on, and they do grow up in a blink of an eye, and you really can’t stop progress. The clichés, they hold some truth. But what I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that it is what goes on in the midst of the marching and the blinking and the progressing that matters.

Thank you, people of Western Christian College, for all of the years of trying to do what matters. And while the end of this era holds sadness, it does not hold hopelessness. Because  no matter where you are, the other end is always The Other End. And the journey is the story.

Advertisements