Since learning of the plan to demolish the Converse Elementary School building located at 102 School Street in January, I suppose I’ve been in an odd fog of denial. On Sept. 10, however, that fog was lifted, and my eyes met the destruction of the structure. Many unexpected emotions swept through me in quick succession. 

As I snapped photos from the driveway of Rock of Faith Baptist Church across the street where mobile homes once stood, I could hear the laughter I shared with my friends and schoolmates from a place that would soon no longer exist and a time long ago (the ‘80s).

I could see us walking onto the campus, greeted by Mr. Griffin, the no-nonsense principal who presided over the school until my 6th grade year, when he was replaced by Ms. Lisco (who was unfortunately also known as “Ms. Crisco” among my friends). Mr. Griffin was a towering man who made sure his presence was known at each stage of your day, a quiet reminder that order and discipline could be found by looking over either shoulder.  

From my perch on the other side of the street, I could see us chaining our bikes to the rack, then heading to the blacktop on the other side of the gym, which at the time was larger than life to us. It was where we were first encouraged to reach as far as we could to touch the very best versions of ourselves. It was here that we were given and offered multiple mercies for our numerous missteps. It was where I would meet lifelong friends I am so thankful for today.

Taking photos of the exposed stairwell that I once took to ascend to my 5th and 6th grade classes, I could smell the hallways and the 1970s-era carpet, which I could still picture vividly. I could hear the hushed voices and not-so-hushed laughter coming from each room and the sound of grinding pencil sharpeners. I recall the music room at the top of the stairs and Ms. Utley, the music teacher who took her class very seriously. (I’m sure you can imagine the name we made for her.) 

The nameless neighborhood the elementary school stood in since 1958 when the common school districts of Converse, Kirby, and Selma were combined is my childhood neighborhood. Not too much has changed about that neighborhood. It’s still the safest place in the world for me. My parents are still in the same house, and I visit them all the time. 

I have watched Converse expand during my military career, and even more so since retiring and returning to live in Converse with my family. Stupidly, I suppose, you expect some things to be insulated against change or so-called progress.  

The writing was on the wall with the opening of the new Converse Elementary School at 6720 FM 1516, but dismissed because the original elementary had found a new purpose as an alternative school. There was that insulation. What is that cliché? All good things come to an end, or nothing last forever. Either is applicable.  

The pain felt is not exceptional, but it is exquisitely personal. There is a feeling that memories are attached to the structure and the destruction of it somehow destroys memories as well. There is a sense that the building is needed to recall every memory and without it, something may be forgotten. I stood there attempting the impossible, to recall everything that happened to me while in attendance there. 

Perhaps this pain would not be as sharp if the space would later be used by the community and for the community, maybe in the form of a youth or senior center. But this generational monument is being demolished to make way for a QT gas station. This will be the fifth gas station within a quarter mile in this section of FM 78. I am all in favor of meaningful progress. This is not an example of meaningful progress. This is an exercise in redundancy and wastefulness.  

In my mind, what could remedy this pain was to take something that could keep my memories connected to the structure. I casually and boldly crossed School Street as I had so many times before. I brazenly walked past the “danger, do not enter” signs, right through the carelessly open threshold to the work site. I stood before a pile of bricks that once stood sturdy and firm as a landmark in my life.

Glancing over my shoulder at the gaping hole that exposed the stairwell, I fully comprehended that by week’s end the entire building would probably be leveled and this pile of bricks would be gone as well. I managed to snag as many bricks as I could for myself and a few close friends who also attended this place of inspiration alongside me in the ‘80s. 

It is my hope that the bricks will keep those memories crystal clear in our minds when we recall them in order to relay in the most accurate detail possible, a great harrowing childhood story to our kids or even to each other even though we’ve heard and told them many times over. 

Fare thee well, Converse Elementary.

Craig Ball is a retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer who served 24 years. He's currently a paralegal specialist working at the office of soldiers on board Fort Sam Houston.