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Jack Rabbit

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Gender: Male
Hometown: Sacramento Valley, California
Member since: 2001
Number of posts: 42,672

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The Cleveland Elementary School Shooting and the Persistance of Memory

I posted this on another thread about 11 pm last night, so I am re-posting it in the hopes more people will see it.

The Grover Cleveland School was new when I attended kindergarten there in 1956. My teacher as Miss Procter. The principal was Mr. Farrerra. I may be misspelling both of those names. I doubt either is with us any more. I had a friend named Ricky Winston. Even though he would be in his early sixties, I know he isn't with us any more, either. He died of a heart seizure when he was only 13. Children shouldn't die so young.

The following year I attended first grade at Cleveland, when my teacher was Mrs. Crawford, a plump, happy and gentle lady. About half way through the year, we moved to another neighborhood in Stockton. I then began attending the El Dorado School, but I'll leave that be today. I want to talk about my memories of Grover Cleveland.

I have a very vivid memory. I can remember having a strawberry cake on my birthday. I even remember being breast fed. I told my mother that once and she didn't believe. Then I told her that she fed me at the kitchen table. Well, that's where she usually fed me.

That kind of memory served me well in many ways. I could memorize whole lists. I could name the US presidents in order with the dates of their terms and the dates of their births and deaths when I was in second grade. That wasn't so hard in those days. I only had to go up to Eisenhower then. It was a cool way to fascinate my friends.

That kind of memory can also be a curse. There are things I remember that I would like to forget. I remember the kid across the street throwing a rock me and hitting a bull's eye, cutting my upper lip. I needed stitches. His name was Kevin Kelly. I can still see him throwing that rock. I can still see Dr. Winnick giving me stitches and how much it hurt and how terrified I was. Kevin Kelly isn't with us any more. He was killed in an auto accident when he was 21. I found out about that when the lady who lived next door to us in Stockton came to visit my parents one day when I was there. I was over thirty, so the news about Kevin was already about ten years old. The lady's name was Gertie. I only have good memories of Gertie and her husband, Freddy. They were always very nice to me.

I didn't like school. I can remember my first day of kindergarten at Grover Cleveland. I learned some new words that day: shrimp, midget, small fry and runt. They were directed at me, the smallest kid in the class. I can still see those kids calling me those names. They didn't mean it in a nice way. I never thought of myself as small until then. After that, it became the single trait that most identified me, and I didn't like it one bit.

I was fascinated with the tile on the floor at Grover Cleveland. It was a kind of marble design, with black and green and yellow playing with each other the way cigarette smoke floated in the air. I remember the playground, and the orchard that was on the other side of a chain link fence. On the east side of the playground was the cafeteria. At least I think it was east. I didn't learn to orient my sense of direction until I was older.

Years later, I was working as a computer programmer in San Francisco. I was 37 when I was walking to the bus stop down town one afternoon after work. I had graduated from San Francisco State University, sat out the recession I graduated into by joining the Army and got married to a young lady I met in Korea. We had two beautiful sons of mixed white and Asian ancestry. I caught the newspaper headline about some maniac shooting up an elementary school and killing a number of children. To my horror I saw that it took place in Stockton, the town were I was born. The school that was the scene of the tragedy was Cleveland Elementary. It took me about a minute to realize that was Grover Cleveland -- this was the first time I heard it called "Cleveland Elementary" -- the school I attended for about a year and a half.

The afternoon wore on and more details came to light. Apparently the gunman was in the orchard behind the school, shooting at children in the playground. I could see it. I wasn't there that day, but could see it. There was no film on television news taken at the school, but I could see it. I knew where everything was and needed to look at no pictures to see it. I could see children walking, or running in a panic on the floor with the black, green and yellow tile. I could see children running from the jungle gym and the monkey bars, which were less than ten feet from the chain link fence that separated the playground from the orchard.

For me, it added a dimension of horror that such a thing happened on ground with which I was familiar.

Days later, more information came to light. The gunman was a racist who was upset with Asian immigrants and thought he'd take it out on their children. When I attended Grover Cleveland, the only Asian Americans in the school were the children of the businessman who owned the Chinese gift shop on Pacific Avenue next door to my dad's photography studio. Now the school was predominately Asian.

That, too, brought a personal element to the story. Would this gunman had shot my sons, who were six and nine when this happened, if he had the opportunity?

In the years between growing up and that day, I had argued with many friends and acquaintances about gun rights and the right of everyone to be safe on the streets. To remember somebody I knew in the army who said that the right bear arms was important enough that such incidents were a price we pay for our freedom. At least I knew that man well enough to know that he would not be so crass as to make that argument to the grieving parents of dead schoolchildren.
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