In 1974, I began teaching at Highland Heights Elementary School. Josh was two and Steve scheduled his classes late enough in the day that he could take Josh to stay in Highland Heights with Cleda Robinson, “Miss Cleda,” until I picked him up on my way home from school. I taught there three years and many of those days are etched in my memory.
One is the first school morning after the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire. My student Robby seemed in a daze that day and indicated he had been there. We all felt so sad for him, to have seen all that death and devastation. Later I learned from his parents that he had not, in fact, been there, but he and his family had watched the smoldering rubble from a distance the next day. Talk about misplaced sympathy!
Another was when a student (I can visualize him but I’ve forgotten his name) approached and said, “I’m sick.” I quizzed him just long enough for him to throw up all over me. It was so bad I had to go home to change.
You’d think in nine years of teaching I’d have realized that I should immediately say, “Go see the nurse,” instead of chatting about it. Valuable lesson learned.
At first, I had a simple drive to the school from our home in Southgate, Kentucky, and later from Fort Thomas, Kentucky. I’d drive south on Alexandria Pike and turn right on Main Street to avoid the Northern Kentucky State College traffic by getting to school “the back way.” Then suddenly Main Street was closed because an interstate highway, I-275, was being built to link Campbell and Kenton Counties. A bridge spanned the chasm created by I-275, and I crossed that to turn right on Renshaw, the more direct but more trafficked way to get to school.
One day, just as I entered Highland Heights, a school bus approached. I slowed down, watching to see if the driver would flip out his STOP sign, but he did not, so I proceeded. Immediately, I heard a siren and saw flashing lights behind me. At first I assumed they were for someone else, but then I realized he was pulling me over.
The officer, Chief Bill Gasdorf, as it turned out, berated me for not stopping for the school bus and asked where I was going. When he learned that I was a teacher, he was even angrier, and wrote me a ticket for not stopping. I assured him, politely, that the sign wasn’t out when I passed and he ignored my explanation. $55, which was exorbitant then. Pay the fine. Period.
When I arrived at school, the students were all a-twitter. Many of them had seen the whole thing. The good news was that the driver was upset because he’d intentionally let me pass before putting out his sign. This prompted me to call the central office to find out the name of the bus driver.
Back then, people didn’t hesitate to give needed information, so I got the name and number of the driver, a sub for that day. His real job, he told me, was driving semi-trailer trucks and he just subbed on the buses occasionally. He’d had his own troubles with policemen over the years and he was more than happy to go to court and testify for me.
It took three appearances at the small town court before I got off. Chief Gasdorf never appeared, though once I saw him in a back office after I’d been told he was “out on a call.” The “judge,” a crony of Gasdorf’s, finally said he would “put it on the docket.” He said that meant if I were ever stopped again in Highland Heights, I’d have to pay both tickets. I drove through town VERY slowly after that. Fortunately, that small town court is a thing of the past.
And now to the Memory Lane part. I have a small part-time job as an English tutor to an Italian gentleman at Prysmian Group. To get to his office in Highland Heights, I drive down Sunset Avenue, where some of my former students lived, and cross Main Street each time. When I go from there to the YMCA, I see Renshaw Avenue, still accessible off Alexandria Pike.
What memories that prompts! I hadn’t thought of the above episodes in a long time, but those thrice-weekly trips to Highland Heights have brought it all back. Also, I spend the rest of the day humming “Sunset and Evening Star,” also known as “Crossing the Bar,” from my trip down Sunset. Even the song is a dim memory from my childhood.
But I’m loving those times when my past intersects with my present. Certainly one of the joys of accumulating years is looking back on so many episodes and relishing those memories.
They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”