It seems like it's becoming a bittersweet ritual here in Huntington Beach. Students going back to the grade schools to wander abandoned buildings and overgrown fields to say goodbye.
Recently this paper did a story on students returning to Wardlow School just weeks before demolition began, to bid farewell. Other schools have also fallen by the wayside, and just last week I witnessed another event that saw students returning to the place where they grew up.
Lamb Elementary on Yorktown Avenue is slated to be razed in several months. Thanks to an active Facebook page and a motivated former student named Lisa Antonacci, a plan was made before the reunion party to meet at the old school grounds to locate a buried treasure. Literally.
It seems a time capsule was buried in the mid-1970s, and so former students set out to dig it up and see what is inside.
On a warm and sunny Saturday morning they began to arrive. Some were carrying old class pictures and signed yearbooks. Lamb Elementary was open from 1965 through 1979, and this was an all-year reunion.
Most recently the school has been used as a training ground for SWAT teams and other law enforcement organizations. The grounds where assemblies were once held and lunches consumed today are littered with broken glass and marred by graffiti. But nobody seemed upset. After all, there was treasure to be hunted.
Antonacci, a class of '80 student who now lives in Las Vegas, told me that as bittersweet as the experience was, she was still thrilled to see old classmates and talk old times. There is something about a reunion that brings out the kid in many an adult, as scrapbook memories are shared and long-ago friendships are rekindled.
I also spoke with Jerry Abrahams, 46, who has been with the Huntington Beach Police Department for 19 years. He told me the day was surreal, because even if he didn't know students from the school, he still recognized many of their names, and so to see them now as adults was a strange experience.
Also, his mother worked at the school, and so his memories were particularly personal. And yes, he was eager to dig in the designated spot by the front of the school to try to unearth the time capsule.
Frank Seurer, who attended Lamb in the early 1970s, went on to play professional football for the Kansas City Chiefs (another Lamb student, Emile Michael Harry, also went on to play for that NFL team). Seurer told me that while he was sorry he missed the reunion, he loves staying in touch with people and seeing photos from from the occasion on Facebook.
He also had fond memories of playing flag football on the field next to the school. He'll be in town this week to play in a golf tournament at Edison High School, where he also was a student.
Bruce Chapman, 54, moved into the area before Lamb opened. So he and other kids actually attended classes in some of the model homes that still ring the site where Lamb is located.
Finally, after gathering on an old outdoor stage to pose for class pictures, it was time to put shovel to dirt and see about that time capsule. What year it was buried, what was in it and just where it was buried seemed a matter of opinion. But the consensus on the latter placed the spot near the front door, where a 1977 class had placed a tree. But nobody was really sure.
The shovel was passed around to several people and then Jerry Abrahams began the serious digging. He hit roots and rocks but was having trouble locating a time capsule. But still he pressed on.
The alumni gathered around, waiting and hoping, but after about 15 minutes, it became evident that no time capsule was to be found. Suddenly, somebody remembered that a similar time capsule may have been planted around the corner. Somebody else remembered another time capsule being planted under a set of knotty bushes that run along the school wall.
But it was getting hot, there was a party to go to, and in the end it seemed that looking for the old box of mementos, even without finding it, held its own value. It was the exercise that mattered, the effort to try to touch a piece of the past.
As the group began to depart, it was clear that reconnecting with the past has less to do with strong boxes and notes placed decades ago. Rather, it's more about seeing old faces and remembering what they looked like at 10 or 12 years old when the world was fresh and innocent and the only thing that mattered was the next kickball game or passing a note to a secret crush.
A school can be taken away but not the memories and echoes of laughter. To me, school sites are sacred in that way. Where so much life was lived for so many years by so many youngsters, I think the air always remains thick with hope and promise and joy and tears — and of course learning.
Thank you for the memories, Lamb Elementary. Time capsule or no, it was a privilege to spend time with you on your old field of dreams.
Note: On Sunday, Assemblyman Travis Allen will be hosting a Community Bonfire featuring good food, music and, of course, roaring bonfires. It will take place from 4 to 7 p.m. at 21579 Pacific Coast Hwy. in Huntington Beach.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter: @chrisepting or follow his column athttp://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.