Leaning on his leaf rake, my neighbor Alner looked around quizzically.
"The old block sure seems quiet since school started," he mused.
"Happens every year," I said. "But, you know, some things really have changed."
"Oh, no," he said. That look in your eyes - I sense a trip coming on."
My friend couldn't have been more right. Within seconds, thanks to my power of metaphysical travel, we were walking down a Wyoming Valley street of many decades past, toward a high school at the end of the block.
"What school's that?" he asked, pointing at the small, brick building.
"Doesn't matter," I said. "Every town back in these times has its very own public school system, grades one through 12, and everybody grows up ready to go out and fight for the old green and white or black and orange or whatever the school colors are. Shall we go inside?"
"I know, I know," Alner sighed. "Your power of theoretical invisibility will enable us to observe and eavesdrop and…"
"You got it," I laughed. "Notice the teacher getting up from her desk and heading to the lectern at the front of the room."
Alner's jaw dropped. "She's reading from the Bible. Now she's leading prayer."
"Right you are, buddy," I said.
"Looks like they're heading off to their first class," he said as the students arose, books and tablets retrieved from the flip-top desks where they'd been sitting. "But…they're not making any noise."
In truth, the silence in the halls was deafening.
"You'll notice also that there's no horseplay, no girl-guy stuff," I said. "Get out of line and you win a free trip to the dreaded ‘office' for a little one-on-one with the assistant principal."
"I wouldn't think about misbehaving," he whispered.
"That's smart," I replied. "Some of the guys teaching here charged ashore at Okinawa or parachuted into France on D-Day. Think they're afraid of a few noisy teenagers? By the way, that lady librarian over there was a Marine sergeant. Don't run up any fines."
We enjoyed our time looking in on the classes. In fact, Alner was absorbed.
"I wondered how kids learned before computers," he said as we ducked out of a history room. "Now I see: it was attention and respect. Probably reinforced at home, too. The parents and teachers must have been on the same page."
I nodded. "I'm not saying everything was perfect back here. Too many girls were channeled away from college, and the dropout rate could have been improved. But this era has a few things to teach us."
As a buzzer sounded the kids headed for the exits.
"What's that storefront they're going into?" asked Alner as we sauntered down the street.
"That's a dance club," I replied. "There are school dances every weekend, and the kids still can't get enough. So nearly every neighborhood has one of these little after-school dance places.
Dancing was good fun, and it was the way guys and girls met and formed relationships. They didn't have to go drinking. During the summer they'd run out to the dance pavilions at Sans Souci or Harveys Lake and meet kids from the other schools."
The aroma of french fries from the club made me hungry, and I brought us back to 2012.
"I know we can't duplicate that past world exactly," said Alner, picking up his leaf rake. "But I sense there is a lesson in there somewhere"
I smiled. "Old buddy, you get an A-plus."
Tom Mooney is a Times Leader columnist. Reach him at [email protected].