My former elementary school, Burbank Elementary School in Hayward, Ca., inspires my middle grade fiction manuscripts.
The school had two sides – the Big Side and the Little Side. Kindergarteners, first, second and third graders stayed on the little side. Fourth, fifth and six graders used the Big Side. Pine trees surrounded the Little Side. The brown needles made for soft beds in the curve of the chain link fence; thick roots bulged out of the ground to form houses for girls and thrones for boys. Hunt’s Cannery was across the street. Stewed tomatoes filled the air with a hot, sweet liquid smell.
On the Big Side, boys perched in gnarled oak trees, crunched on fallen leaves and smashed pollen balls down each other’s necks. The Big Side had two baseball fields with a real dug out and an announcer box for Little League games. Metal chains clanged against tether ball poles. A torn jacket, a dirty shoe, a floppy hat, a pair of cracked glasses collected on wooden benches and in the gutters after the children went home. Forgotten items lost during recess, to be replaced by understanding mothers and fathers, or sometimes not at all.
The chain link fence that surrounded the whole school was a series of hexagon links, thousands upon thousands of wires, greasy from sweaty, clutching fingers, dented by assaults from errant red rubber balls.
Neither side mingled with the other. Once I left the Little Side, I never looked back. Passage to the Big Side was a step toward that heaven of adulthood, the pedestal before the door of Jr. High School, the entrance to serious things – like Love and its mysteries.