Block by block the children raced, and waited, and then began the process again. Finally, at the corner of Colusa and Tacoma, there were big boys wearing bright red sweaters and carrying semiphores. They were serious about their duty, and blocked the path of the children and their mothers until the right time came to cross the street. Other adults who walked in the area followed the directions of the boys in the bright red sweaters and waited patiently at the corner until they were escorted across the street.
Finally, the children approached Thousand Oaks School. The big French doors of the kindergarten classroom opened wide and Miss Cook greeted the children and their mothers who had gathered outside.
And the kindergarten classroom was a wonderful place! In the center of one wall was a large brick fireplace that made the room feel like home. Two sets of French doors opened on the East side and admitted small warm squares of sunshine on the hardwood floors. There were giant wood blocks to build and climb on, and best of all, easels set up with paints and brushes, ready to use every day. The paints had a wonderful, chalky smell that remained even after a picture had been created and carefully carried home. But best of all, there were giant toys.
One afternoon, just before recess, the Principal came for a visit. All the children gathered on the floor, cross-legged, and answered his greeting in sing-song: "Goood Mooorning, Mr. Currr-tis!" That day, Mr. Curtis had a surprise for everyone: A large red firetruck with shiny black wheels and white ladders! Even the girls were delighted!
The red fire truck was a gift from the P.T.A. and the children knew all about that. All the children lived nearby and their mothers would walk to the school for afternoon P.T.A. meetings in the large, cool Thousand Oaks auditorium. There they would plan the T.O. Carnival for all the children and parents in the neighborhood. It was so fun, even the older children who went to Garfield Jr. High would come back to T.O. to take part. But even better, the money from the Carnival had paid for the big red firetruck.
Seven years later, most of the children who had been given the firetruck were still being taught together at Thousand Oaks School. The boys were now the big boys who got to wear the red sweaters and carry semiphores. The girls wore green armbands with felt letters: T and O. Miss Cook was still downstairs teaching in the giant kindergarten room, and Mr. Curtis still was welcomed with a sing-song from the new class of kindergarteners.
One of the children who had raced along the street ahead of their mothers grew up to be a fireman. The other stayed in school for so long that all the family joked that school days would never end.
And now they learn that the French doors, the fireplace, the hardwood floors and the chalky smell of red and yellow paint may all be demolished. Other grown-ups, who never knew the magic of the Thousand Oaks Carnival and who had never sat cross-legged on a cool hardwood floor, have decided that the building has no value.
These grownups, surely, were never given a giant red firetruck.
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