Opened in 1931, Mallett school even when I attended had problems with heat, no way to prepare lunch to hundreds of kids, poor plumbing -- but we loved it anyway. What made it special, as the cliche goes, was not so much the place, but the people. Looking back on my classmates and teachers, I know now that I loved them -- thought I couldn't have understood it as such back then. Among those who have experienced it, a stable, small-town life (especially in a place like Maine) engenders something very much like the love of family. Sadly, sometimes, you have to move away to recognize that love.
Now, as a teacher myself, I know that there were some very good teachers at Mallett. The quality of our learning was helped in no small measure by the presence of the University of Maine at Farmington just a couple of blocks away. For a long time, UMF was known primarly as the state teacher's college (it's known for other things too, now), so young teachers-in-training were always turning up for a semester at time in our elementary classrooms. I imagine that all my teachers must have been more focused and more professional than the average, if only because they were often being observed, often being called upon to mentor those who wished to take up the craft. Although we never thought of it as a "training school," we loved the bright new teachers who showed up every few months.
The stronget memory I have, surprisingly, is that of playing basketball on Sunday mornings in the old, one-hoop half-gym at Mallett. Starting in those later elementary school years and well into high school, every weekend (often after Sunday school at St. Joseph's) dear old Paul Sproul -- a friend of the family and my 5th grade math teacher -- would gather his son Joel, our friends Jason and Jim and maybe Flint (we know a guy named Flint!), and drive us over to Mallett, where we would pick up another few kids and play 3-on-3 until lunchtime. On the sides of the gym, there were backboards hung at 8-feet, so we all used to practice our slam-dunks. Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell breaks free of the defender and -- ka-BLAM! Paul Sproul, the only grown-up among us, must have been well into his fifties at that point, and not much more than five-two, but there were days when he reminded us of Bob Cousy. He had the no-look bounce pass ready for any opportunity. Thank you, Paul, for all the hoops.
And thank you, Mallett School, on behalf of the 30,000 or so kids you helped educate over the years. May the shipped-in sloppy joes always be sloppy, may second base always be the telephone pole before the drop-off, and may the air we all breathed between Middle, Quebec, and Perham Streets always carry the faintest echoes of all our laughter and singing.
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