Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Past is a Foreign Country

Who are these people? The tall boy on the right was a friend and the boy tearing up the book taught my how to play chess. The others have vanished from memory. I just found this picture in the last box of my parents' photos I've gone through. It was taken at Eunice Knight Saunders School, which I attended from Sept. 61 until the school closed down in June, 63. I had mentioned this school in a recent Firesign Theatre chat and to my astonishment, got an email from someone who also attended this school. I was in grades 6-7 and the person who emailed me said he was in first grade at the time. My memories of this school are few. It had horses and a swimming pool, both actually required classes. But in 63, the school was falling apart, perhaps due to a lack of concern or cognition on the part of Mrs. Saunders, who kept firing teachers. Alzheimer's? Often I'd go to school and there's be no classes, which is why the book-tearer in the picture taught me to play chess. I also wrote a lot of plays. I haven't played chess in decades and the plays I wrote in the early 60s are as alien to me now as that vaguely remembered school.
I googled Eunice Knight Saunders and discovered there was a group of old students online. They also remember the horses and the pool (although without the trepidation I remember its high diving board) but they remember it much more fondly that I do. I don't remember them at all, if I knew them then. Same is true for my Junior High (Milliken, in Van Nuys) and High School (Montclair, also in Van Nuys). I walked around Milliken when I was last in LA a few years ago. It now seems to be gated. But at least I can see through the gates. Montclair is as fiercely closed as Sauron's castle. It was a motel when I attended (65-68), most famous for having the last episode of The Fugitive filmed there than for anything academic. It had no library, no labs, and such a bare bones athletic programme that I was the tennis coach. Although the school must have been half female, I only remember one girl, from the tennis team and my French class, and two boys, who were in the grade above me and stayed friends for a few years after we graduated. About the only pleasant memory I have of my 3 years there was a debate I was in. There was a student, whose first language wasn't English, as I recall. In the debate, he sounded like Elmer Fudd. Unintentionally. It was the funniest thing I'd heard up until that point in my life. I had totally forgotten it until I saw his name among the alumni. I recognized a couple of names but his was the only name that triggered a memory. I see Elmer is now a famous professor and probably has no more memory of that debate than I did until seeing his name on the school website. If I heard a tape of that debate today, would it still be hilarious? Probably not.

The multiplicity of selves becomes more intuitive as the time span increases. Social psychologists have found certain differences in how we think of ourselves versus how we think of other people—for instance, we tend to attribute our own bad behavior to unfortunate circumstances, and the bad behavior of others to their nature. But these biases diminish when we think of distant past selves or distant future selves; we see such selves the way we see other people. Although it might be hard to think about the person who will occupy your body tomorrow morning as someone other than you, it is not hard at all to think that way about the person who will occupy your body 20 years from now. This may be one reason why many young people are indifferent about saving for retirement; they feel as if they would be giving up their money to an elderly stranger.
"First Person Plural," by Paul Bloom, The Atlantic, Nov. 2008

That captures it well. The person I was 40-50 years ago is as alien to me as the other people in old pictures. These pictures are post cards from some distant place I had once visited but no longer can even imagine. At the end of his life, my father went back to live in his childhood more than 80 years in the past. My mother is going the same direction. Such Alzheimer's-enforced resettlement may be beneficial for the species but is much less so for a family. Rather than visiting the foreign country of my past, I'd prefer to visit actual foreign countries.


At 5:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too went to Saunders from about 1957-61; ending in Mr. Plock's class. I was there when they first opened the Ventura Frwy. Teachers/Faculty I remember-
I still have my report cards.
My brother, Jon Mettrick, was 2 grades ahead. You're right, everything including the US seems like it was another planet then.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger SW STOUT said...

I too went to this school in the late 40's. I too remember tha thigh diving board, the horses, the carrot and raisin salad, the dust, the music classes and the Christmas performances.

At 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I started the school in January 1947 and then went to the Sherman Oaks facility when it opened in September 1947.

I have a lot of memories of the old School in West Hollywood on
Crescent Heights near Sunset.

One of Art Linkletter's daughters was a clasmmate and we would go sometimes to the radio show on Santa Monica Blvd.

At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was also in that class with Art Linkletter's daughter at the Crescent Heights school in 1947-48.

I remember the class room one block west in a converted home.

I liked the school and the memories. I remember Ms. Saunders and the principal Ms. Bennett

I wonder if I would remember you.


At 5:15 AM, Blogger AnneR1 said...

I was also a student in 1946-1947
and was voted may queen i think in 1947.then we had to go back to europe!
I remeber lots of names
Mine is Anina

At 11:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to Saunders 1960-1963 and started in a grade called pre-primer with Mrs. Bedelin. I remember horseback riding, pottery and Spanish classes. Mrs. Fisher in 1st grade, can't remember my 2nd grade teacher's name. I loved that school and have many fond memories. Mrs. Saunder's husband passed away and she closed the school.

Francine DeTullio

At 10:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to the school beginning in 1961 I believe. My teacher was Mrs. Powell.

At 6:51 AM, Blogger kr said...

My parents put my in and took me out of Eunice Knight Saunders the same semester in 1962, when the LA Public Schools started half-days (I think for economic reasons) which my parents were angry about. I remember very little except a stage with a big castle in the yard which is now the Sunkist building. I remember my second grade teacher's name as Mrs. Kitty Oiler. I don't know how, I remember a lot of arcane things. At any rate, for reasons I don't know, my parents were very dissatisfied with the program and pulled me out almost as quickly as I went in (maybe 8-10 weeks in) even though I went back to half-day in second grade. I grew up in Woodland Hills and went to Collier Street Elementary School, Portola Junior and Taft Senior High. I now have a home very close to the Sunset building, former home of the Eunice Knight Saunders school and near the above-referenced Millikan Jr. High. In googling the school (and finding this blog) I discovered that the Trader Joe's across the street from the school's location was originally named (if not still) the Eunice Knight Saunders Center. Perhaps she took her Sunset money and invested...

At 3:31 PM, Blogger VENOM said...

I had the misfortune to attend that school, and I well remember the "workbooks" which substituted for real teaching. I was there when that ridiculous "stage" with a sort of castle with a backdrop was being built. I had, along with others, mandatory polka lessons on the stage that we had to dance in Saunders "Christmas Pageant". I had a lot of trouble with this woman who was both physically and verbally abusive to me, as were several of the teachers. They are all hopefully rotting in hell now.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I also went to Saunders from '60 to '63, Kindergarten through 1st grade. I also had Ms. Til Powell for Kindergarten. First grade we were a horrible class and chased a couple of teachers out. I have wonderful memories of the ponies, pool and the plays. The one I was in that I remember was "Meet Me in Saint Louis" I got to wear a long puffy dress with a parasol. When I school closed I went to Campbell Hall with several of my class mates.

At 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have created a Facebook page just for Eunice Knight Saunders School alumni. Would love for you to join and share your memories.
Suzi D

At 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to the school in the 4th and 5th grades, as did my sister. I believe it would have been fall 1953 to summer 1955. I don't remember much, but I do remember that I got a lot of individualized instruction and the classes were small. I had(have) a pretty severe learning disorder and they helped me learn things that I couldn't in a regular school setting. I'm grateful for that.


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