Friday, July 1, 2005

P.S. 131

Not long after writing about P.S. 131 last night, I saw my old school on television, a really wonderful surprise. I happened to have the television on while waiting my turn to be online. (Wireless network? Bah. We take turns.) WGN was showing Home Delivery, a show I'd never seen. Very strange--these four demi-gods show up at people's houses and apartments to help solve problems. John was helping Antasia, a young girl with problem hair.

And suddenly, there's 44th Street, Boro Park, Brooklyn, with the fence of the schoolyard of P.S. 131, and the elevated train tracks over New Utrecht Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway in the background. A half-dozen or so other shots of Antasia outside her school confirmed that it was indeed P.S. 131.

There's real consolation in finding that the places of one's past are still there, and more or less the same. I was lucky to have that consolation when I visited P.S. 131 in 1987, on a schoolday, with a tour of the school from a member of the safety patrol, and in 1998, on a Saturday, when I happened to find the school's custodian just finishing his morning's work. (He turned out to be the son of Jimmy, the custodian when I was a student, as I found out when I described Jimmy to the current custodian and asked if he had known him.) Most of the details of the school building were still there when I visited--the classrooms had been modernized, the old desks and the globe lights removed, but the tiny water fountains outside the kindergarten classrooms were still there (yes, I took a drink), as were the strangely industrial staircases, the thick wire gratings protecting the hallway radiators, the beautiful Board of Education doorknobs, and the cool, smelly basement, where everyone assembled on the first day of school. Walking down the steps to the gym or into the auditorium or past "the office," I felt like my K-6 self.

The P.S. 131 fence played a large part in my childhood--one had to be able to climb it to get into the schoolyard to play ball. So at some early age, I learned. The fence--maybe eight feet high, made of bars six or eight inches apart--could be climbed only at one corner, where it angled in close to a ledge in the schoolyard. So by extending a leg through the fence, it was possible to pull up via the ledge and then climb over. It was literally a matter of climbing through the fence so as to climb over the fence.

My teachers, even the youngest ones, were all gone by 1987 (many to death, as I've discovered by checking the Social Security Death Index.) Nowadays (or at least in 1998), the schoolyard gate is left unlocked. But like the Native American canoe in the Museum of Natural History (so beloved by Holden Caulfield), the fence is still there, same as it ever was.

Here's a photo of the older part of P.S. 131, though it doesn't include the schoolyard.

Related posts
P.S. 131, 44th Street, Brooklyn (With photos of the school)
Some have gone and some remain (With a photo of the fence)

P.S. 131 class photographs
1962–1963 1963–1964 1964–1965 1965–1966 1966–1967

comments: 2

Anonymous said...

I grew up in boro park and lived there from 1957 to 1990. I attented Kindergarden at PS 131 in 1961. I can still smell that basement and remember the walk to the class rooms. That basement was also the place I first voted for a president in 1976 I also did the squeeze through the fence so that I could climb over the fence with my friends and play stick ball. Thanks for bringing back some happy memories.

Michael Leddy said...

I've always hoped that someone from P.S. 131 would find this post and leave a comment. Thanks for doing so!

If you're far from Brooklyn now, Google Maps' "Street View" has some good photographs of our school.