In one of my mother’s old snapshots, I’m up on all fours, making my way across the burgundy carpet of my nursery school. I’m wearing boldly striped bell bottoms and look like a groovy zebra traversing the savanna. It’s 1973, or perhaps ‘74.
The school has been in the basement of All Saints Parish on the corner of Beacon Street and Dean Road in Brookline since 1972. Its humble landscape was enough to inspire my young imagination. In one room was that carpet and a jungle gym built of two-by-fours that seemed as tall as a skyscraper; in another was the kitchen warmed by a mammoth cast-iron stove.
Designed for parent involvement, the school was named the Corner Co-Op. My mother tells me the dads built the jungle gym; the moms, who were mostly the stay-at-home kind back then, built everything else. They hired our teacher, furnished the space, volunteered at the school, and hosted family picnics and dinners.
My parents divorced around the time the Corner Co-Op came to be. Mom took a job working nights as a telephone operator so she could be home with my brother and me during the day. She must have been exhausted, but as her photos show, she still found a way to be involved.
In another photo, there she is at a school picnic and there I am, secure in her lap. As I look through more images, other memories come: My mother helping our class shape pretzel dough before dropping it into a vat of boiling water on the stove. A pack of us bounding across the field toward the swings, my corduroy jacket flapping open. Our teacher sitting on the grass at another picnic while we kids crush our bodies against her in a pig-pile hug. I remember our teacher’s smooth hair, her kind face, and how whole-heartedly we loved her, the way preschool-age children usually do.
For some memories, I have my mother’s photographic evidence; for others, I have only snapshots in my mind. Accompanying all of them is that childlike confidence that the world is full of love.
A large bank of windows filled the nursery school with light. The windows looked out onto Dean Park (now named Jean B. Waldstein Playground) and its large oak trees. You could hear the MBTA’s C and D lines rumble by. The school was just a short walk from the third-floor apartment where we lived, and even though I insisted on walking to school by myself, my mother always followed close behind.
Up until early 2022, I’d had no contact with my nursery school since I left it, except to point it out to my children on visits to my mother, their grandmother. But sometimes the universe rekindles an old connection, perhaps even a seemingly insignificant one. When I learned by chance the school was celebrating its 50th anniversary that June, I knew I’d go, and I’d bring my daughter and my mother, along with her photographs.
I’m not sure what I was hoping to see — perhaps that nothing had changed. Inside, the space seemed smaller. Gone were the jungle gym and the burgundy rug, replaced with modern equipment. Yet, the fundamentals were the same: that beautiful bank of windows looking out at the oak trees, the high ceilings, the cast-iron stove, and that feeling of boundless possibility.
Outside, we gathered on the grass: alumni, parents, staff — all of us connected one way or another to this place.
I passed around my mother’s photographs. No one found themselves among them. No one remembered the jungle gym or the groovy zebra who roamed there long ago. I suppose none of them could have known — even I hadn’t — that the Corner Co-op came into our lives at just the right time for a newly single mother and a child who was just beginning to imagine her place in the world.
Elizabeth Christopher is a writer living in Melrose. Send comments to email@example.com. TELL YOUR STORY. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.