Editor's Note: Jeff Peyton submitted columns of his memories of his days growing up in Levittown over the past two weeks. Today, we run a third column of his. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
When you get into a conversation about great teachers, you necessarily move into terrain related to the reality of school itself. We all tend to romanticize the experience, kind of like we do when reflecting back on time in the military, but in my first hours in the Army my mind exploded with memories of elementary school. In terms of what one is free to do and what one is not free to do, in terms of the herding yelling, control, authority, and the threat of punishment, both experiences collided. I may have gotten more out of playing in the catacombs and the underground tunnels of Northside School under construction than I did having to sit all day in school.
I have always questioned the value and legitimacy of formal education. And some excellent teachers I have known feel that way, too. In high school, I can recall my gaze affixed for weeks through the window on a man, maybe it was two, atop the Levittown water tower, painting red and white squares, and wondering where he got the guts and skill to do that all day long.
The thing about early Levittown is that as we grew up with it, it grew into us – got under our skin. Levittown was as much an invention as it was a place. We took part in its creation, even as it created us. Unlike towns with established histories, ours developed from scratch over time, allowed us to feel the freedom of young pioneers, to run and ride along labyrinthine pathways we all but owned.
I recall the day in October of 1949 when I stepped out the front door of 35 Snowbird Lane. It was flat and soundless — the sky an expanse of openness and the sun low in the sky — strange to eyes and ears used to the apartment buildings and the rattle of trolley cars of Brooklyn, no streets, road, trees, sounds, lampposts, sidewalks, just dark earth, and houses, many waiting vacant. I looked to my right and there, in front of the house next door, was a boy, smaller than five-year-old me. He was looking down, his head a shock of red hair against the mud brown landscape. He was a kid I would know for years to come. I recall that moment as a time stamp — the moment I landed as a settler. It was a lifetime ago, but it was a blink within a series of longer blinks of time and travel.
We never heard the explosion, but for sure we are all outward, far-flung stars in the wake of our own big bang.