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Sun Dec 16, 2012, 04:57 PM

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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Arrow 12 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Cleveland Elementary School Shooting and the Persistance of Memory (Original post)
Jack Rabbit Dec 2012 OP
niyad Dec 2012 #1
NYC_SKP Dec 2012 #2
Jack Rabbit Dec 2012 #5
XemaSab Dec 2012 #3
NYC_SKP Dec 2012 #4
haele Dec 2012 #6
adieu Dec 2012 #7
ReRe Dec 2012 #8
Jack Rabbit Dec 2012 #10
Zoeisright Dec 2012 #9
Jack Rabbit Dec 2012 #11
rbennettucm Dec 2012 #12

Response to Jack Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 05:02 PM

1. k and r--it is horrible enough hearing these stories about places we do not know. cannot

imagine how much worse it is to realize it is a place one knows well.

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Response to Jack Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 05:07 PM

2. Hi Jack Rabbit! You know, I'm a Stockton resident, I remember Cleveland.


Some people here have opined that I'm a gun lover. It illustrates how clueless people can be.

I remember the shooting, the notation that the killer collected plastic green army men, that his missiles penetrated the steel of basketball post hoops.

You and your friend from the army are right. Grieving parents and others, this soon after an event, ought not be made targets of the arguments in favor of the fundamental right to bear arms.

I know this town, I know Pacific Avenue. If you're a local Obama/McNerney/Eggman supporter, we've probably met.

You might know the democratic organizing spot on the 2600 block, I think, of the Miracle Mile.

In any event, I thank you for posting.

And I'm grateful that you are sharing something most posters here can not.

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Response to NYC_SKP (Reply #2)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 05:36 PM

5. I live in Davis now.

We moved out of Stockton when I was 15, just before I would have started Stagg Hi. For those not familiar with Stockton, Stagg High School was named for a famous football coach contemporary with Knute Rockne. Amos Alonzo Stagg coached the College (now University) of the Pacific team sometime after World War II. While coaching at the University of Chicago, he made major changes to the punt, including moving the punter back two steps; this is the punt as we know it. Stagg died in a nursing home a few blocks from my house at the age of 102. I remember the town's observations of his 100th birthday.

The last school I attended in Stockton was Daniel Webster Jr. High, from 1964-1967. I think it's a magnet school now. It's located on Michigan Avenue. There was no freeway nearby at the time. The El Dorado School, where I went to grade school after moving out of Grover Cleveland's district, is now the adult education center at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Harding Way.

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Response to Jack Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 05:12 PM

3. I've been thinking about that shooting too

I was home sick that day from Cleveland Elementary... in Oakland. When I saw the news report, it took me a few minutes to realize that they weren't talking about my school.

But I think the moral of that shooting is that no matter how secure we make the school building, if someone wants to shoot a bunch of kids, he will find a way.

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Response to XemaSab (Reply #3)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 05:26 PM

4. It was surreal, to live a mile from that school.


And strange now to witness the reactions on this board, and the seeming violent yet acceptable bashing of anyone who might not agree with the (arguably) dominant view that gun ownership=freeper.

Fuck that shit.

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Response to Jack Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 05:38 PM

6. What's odd is that almost ten years prior, another shooting at another Cleveland Elementry -

in 1979, 16 year old Brenda Ann Spencer of "I don't like Mondays" fame in San Diego. She killed the principal and a security officer scrambling to save the children after she decided to point her new birthday rifle out her bedroom window at the elementry school across the street when the children were coming to school and pull the trigger a couple times "just to liven up her day" - as she told the psychiatrists when she was initially arrested.
That's what I thought of when you spoke about the Cleveland Elementry school massacre, but I do remember Purdy and the Stockton shooting.

Still no real remorse in that girl at all - she comes up with a different reason that it was someone else's or something else's fault she did the shooting. She didn't still make parole the last time she came up for it.


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Response to haele (Reply #6)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 07:15 PM

7. Guess we ought to ban


schools named "Cleveland..."

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Response to Jack Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 07:27 PM

8. K&R

What a beautiful essay about growing up. I hope others will think about doing this for your children/grandchildren. Leave your story for you descendants to read 100 years from now...

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Response to ReRe (Reply #8)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 08:44 PM

10. Thank you

Your comments are appreciated.

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Response to Jack Rabbit (Original post)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 07:29 PM

9. Oh, plenty of people are making the crass argument

that these mass murders are the price to pay for freedom.

It's in all the whining about their precious little guns. It's in the whining about "how on earth are we going to ban guns?" It's in all the whining about losing the gun-nut vote, in the "but I AM a responsible gun owner", in the "but I WANT it" crowd. That attitude is very common in this country.

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Response to Zoeisright (Reply #9)

Sun Dec 16, 2012, 08:51 PM

11. I know there are plenty of people making that crass argument

I'm sure most gun owners are responsible, too.

My point is that not many would be classless enough to make that argument to grieving friends and relatives of the victims of gun violence. At least this man, with whom I served in the Army, was not so classless.

Ronald Reagan was the only man in my lifetime I thought was stupid enough not to realize there was a problem with the ease of buying a gun in America when it quite literally kicked him in the ribs.

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Response to Jack Rabbit (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 07:15 PM

12. I remember...

Last edited Sat Dec 22, 2012, 04:40 AM - Edit history (1)

I was born at St. Joseph's Hospital in Stockton in 1984.

My house was steps from Billy Hebert Field and the silence of the off-season, catty-corner to the sorrowful tolling bells of St. Luke's Cathedral and it's daily mass, spitting distance from the endless sprawling paradise of magnificent Oak Park and it's many distractions...and three short blocks from my community elementary school; Grover Cleveland. I would have been there that year as a kindergartner were it not for the school district's age/birthday cutoff for incoming kids: Age 5 by December 31st. As a Friday the 13th baby born in January, I was barred entry into school within Stockton Unified that year. However, my clever parents stretched the family budget to the farthest reaches of solvency to afford kindergarten for me at a private school where there was no silly cutoff. They were all too happy to accept a precocious 4 year old, and her parent's money, for the one year I'd be their charge and then I could transfer back into my district, into Cleveland, and around that pesky age rule, the following spring.

Even though I had never attended as a student, Cleveland grew to be ever present in my mind as I started to understand the ramifications of transferring and began to recognize the looming certainty; that my first schoolyard friendships would not transfer with me. And then I turned 5 on January 13th. We had a birthday party with all my new school friends at my house on NORTH California Street - a cul-de-sac continuation of the main road that dead-ends at the southern edge of Oak Park but spills over again on the north side of Fulton Avenue, just a stone's throw from Sutter Street that borders the park on the west. Hardly anyone knows of THAT California St. and several of my new kindergarten friends' parents got lost on the way to my party (despite my having written down directions and included a hand drawn map in every invitation). Everyone was late and I was distraught, but even if everyone had been on time, January is such a terrible month for a child to have a birthday party. The freezing Tule fog had only just dissipated by the time guests were scheduled to arrive and still the icy mist of morning hung in the air and dulled all the world in wispy grey spray so that even the pinata that dangled indoors from the apex of our living room's unfinished ceiling studs (thanks to an adoring father's clever pulley design) seemed muted by another dank winter day in the Central Valley.

I not-so-secretly wished (out loud) that I had been born in any one of the 10 other months that would have granted me occasion to have my first BIG KID birthday party at the park - the one I could see from my roof! - instead of sad, gloomy, cold, damp January and the poor indoor-party consolations and approximations of the preferable, but seasonally restricted, birthday extravaganzas. I wished. But it was still my party, so I wore a maroon crushed velvet dress with long sleeves and cheap lace at the wrists and hem - the only dress I owned since I usually wore whatever was easiest to pull myself into that wasn't already caked in whatever filth I accumulated from my last excursion. The delicate bow adorning the hair band I wore was a shade or two darker than the pink streamers that draped in twirled, lazy lines across the room, but that I had managed to plan accordingly to a color scheme at all was clear evidence of my amazing progress in my quest to understand "girly" things - a huge success. The party favor bags were tied shut with curled ribbons and I counted them over and over, again and again until my first guest arrived. This was the moment I knew I was officially a big kid; the moment my friend - a friend I made ALL BY MYSELF and not through my mom or dad, and not some cousin or other family member, but my very own friend - had come to my house, a house that was so very hard to find, for MY party, a party that was NOT going to be at the park, on a gloomy Sunday in the middle of blustery January all to celebrate my being 5! And it was because I went to school that I could have this party. I was reinvigorated. More kids showed, some didn't, and we played silly inside games my dad made up, ran around my house like wildlings - shrieking as we went, even managing to make some sport of the weird ceiling-mounted pinata.

By the time I started to hand out the favor bags I had almost forgotten that I was destined for another school soon - one that each of my friends and their parents would drive past on their way back to the fancier neighborhoods they lived with other well-to-do people who sent their children to expensive private elementary schools, as a rule. I was the exception; an interloper; temporary. My friendships were based in that other community and this had been the first time my home life collided with my budding social life and future exceptions would be exceedingly rare. I wonder what they saw as they drove west on Fulton and maneuvered beyond the awkward disjointed intersection at El Dorado Street on their way to Pacific Avenue where they would meet the scenescape of U.O.P.'s outer edge. I wonder if any of them noticed the unremarkable elementary school they would have had no other earthly reason to be driving past but for this party at a house in a neighborhood far from Quail Lakes Estates. I wonder if they glanced at the deserted playground of a winter weekend and thought it strange that it had no rear fence. Our private school had one. Maybe they were too busy fiddling with the curled ribbons that kept secret the contents of the favor bag I'd handed them as they left. Maybe they were too busy chattering about my party and how much fun they'd had. Maybe. All I know for certain is that when they passed, and they must have passed, by the school, which they may or may not have noticed, having just left a celebration of childhood, doubtless still spinning from the sugar overload and buoyed by the frivolity and silliness and innocence and an entire afternoon of childish play, there remained fewer than 40 hours to be enjoyed in the childhood of each student present on campus when the gunfire erupted - and for 5 innocent kids there were only as many hours to be lived at all.

I turned 5 on the 13th of January. On Tuesday, January 17th, 1989 five children I might well have been celebrating with at my party that Sunday before - my classmates, had the circumstances been only ever so slightly altered - were brutally slaughtered in a hailstorm of gunfire and chaos. I wasn't there. I had a different life outside of the community I lived in. I was in the community I was on loan to, my parents paying for the privilege to have me among the privileged and while I was safe that day when lunchtime came and I set out to play on a playground far, far away from the horror of Cleveland, I could not escape the proximity of my home to the aftermath and the pure terror I felt rip through and shred some part of my own innocence when I came home later that day (though certainly not as catastrophically as my would-be schoolmates at Cleveland). Everything was different overnight. I went from a 4 year old who had many questions for her parents about the presidential race between Bush and Dukakis ( such as why it should be a requirement of someone who wants to be president that they be a fast runner? Aren't there other qualities that we should prefer in a leader? ) to a newly minted 5 year old who understood ,much too soon, that safety is measured on a sliding scale and that terrible things happen everywhere and can happen to anyone. Even to children. Even in the places we feel most at ease. Even at home. That 5 year old knew something no child should ever have to learn, but many do; this life is fragile and fleeting and random. I didn't know anything about the scale or scope of the grief that ensnared the nation or the fury the followed. I only knew I could hear the wailing of the mothers of the dead as they held their days-long funerals rites behind my house, at the Cathedral. I knew that news people were blocking my route to school, that we drove another way that took much longer, and that I subsequently had more time to remember why we our lives would never be the same. I only knew that the fences that went up at all the schools were permanent, that they didn't make me feel safer, but that it was probably better than nothing to keep dangerous people with really big guns and really poor mental health away from the places we children would congregate. I knew nothing of the debates over guns. I knew nothing of the 2nd amendment or the NRA. I knew nothing about assault weapons classifications, or banana clips (Purdy had several still loaded on his body), or 100 round drums (like the one Purdy did most damage using). I doubt that any of that would have mattered to me even if I had known and understood.

Somehow, the longer I spent trying to make sense of what happened, the less sense any of it made. I talked to my parents and teachers and counselors for hours at a time attempting to glean insight, understanding, and closure, but none would come. I feel often that I have gained none still. Some things can't be classified and categorized so that they might fit within the boundaries of our limited understanding of the world we know PRECISELY because the world we know is dramatically altered as a result of whatever is it we are trying to force to fit. There had been no single incident like Cleveland before and we, as a society I think, had no basis for comprehension much less compartmentalization. Sadly, in the years since Cleveland Elementary was brutalized there have been a great many school shootings - and there are now many shortcuts we are comfortable taking in the grieving process in order to quickly classify and categorize the horror so we can move on and try to forget how vulnerable we feel when events exceed the limitations of our reason. We begin to circulate new, fake, terminology for coffee table pop-psychology and complex human traits are then reduced to buzz words that elevate the importance of trivial characteristics and qualifiers such as "Bullied," "Goth," "Narcissist," "Terrorist," "Attention seeker," "Reader of The Anarchist's Cookbook," etc. These fractured traits are woefully inadequate for the task of encapsulating the essence of the WHY?! Equally impotent are the silly sing-song oversimplifications of gun control advocates frequently heard in harmony with the screeching of the gun rights advocates and their absurd wishlist of deregulation and arms proliferation. Such attempts to reduce the multidimensional plague of school violence to some single causal source can bring us no closer to true comprehension of that which is largely incomprehensible. Running to our respective corners and yelling back and forth about political wedge issues is much easier and more familiar than acknowledging the powerlessness that results from our ignorance and incomprehension, but the politics of the moment, no matter how passionately they may be argued, cannot right what has been wronged or salve the wound that only time and distant perspective can heal. I also wish for easy answers, but there can be none. I, too, want desperately to believe that we have it figured out and can all rest a little easier knowing that we can, and will, prevent future atrocities, but this hope is a fantasy, and this proposed eventuality is an illusion borne of despair and dissimulation . That is not to say that there is nothing to be done, not at all; much should be done, and it should be done immediately, to quell the rising tide of gun violence. Unfortunately, the process will likely be unending and our victories will likely go unnoticed - like the innumerable daily successes of vaccinations, we are not easily persuaded that there existed a danger if we never had to face it. Still, it is my great hope that we will confront the issue head on with our best and brightest at the helm. It is critically important that we keep the honest intellectual conversation far away from our wildly feckless politicians, their inanity, self-importance, and especially their abundant desire to turn good ideas into hollow legislation.

May those who are suffering in Connecticut and beyond find the fortitude to journey through this time of incredible grief and begin to construct their new versions of normal with as little distraction by the political punditry as possible. May they each, in the face of such pressure and persistence by the rest of us, be unyielding in their determination to rebuild and repair and see the rest for what it is; fear and insecurity of those who've not had to suffer the losses, fear their inability to guard against joining you in such sadness, and will do and say almost anything if it would afford the power of foresight/ability to preempt misfortune - even though such intuition and ascendancy are not nearly possible. My thoughts are with you and your children. I wish you peace.

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