Antique Childhood, School

Walking To School

Hands down, my favorite thing about first grade is walking to school.

Although I love our car time, it’s really nice to not have to get in the car of a morning as we have for the past several years.  Seeing the world through the car window is one thing, but being able to stop and examine a spider web or a willy worm or the perfect yellow leaf is a deeper richer experience that engages all of the senses and not just the eyes.  And what I especially admire about Sean is that he always seems to be tapped into the sensory data.  He has an acute awareness of that which is invisible to most.  The other day as we walked under the trees that line the sidewalk, he turned to me and said, “Mom, I just love the sound of leaves crunching underfoot, don’t you?”  Indeed, I do now.

Most days, AD will join Sean and me on our half-mile walk to school.  There are a few other families in the neighborhood who walk to school occasionally, but for the most part we have the sidewalk to ourselves.

When I was growing up, I never had the sidewalk to myself.  Everyone walked to school and there were plenty of us.  No one’s mom drove them to school.  No one’s mom or (gasp!) dad walked them to school.  Mom kicked us out the door, sometimes before the sun was even up, rain or shine, sleet or snow, and we joined up with the passing human train of children heading south towards school.  The older boys, who were too cool to walk, rode their bikes.  They would blaze up behind us hollering something like, “Watch out! No breaks!”  All the girls would scream and scramble off the sidewalk just before they slammed on their brakes leaving behind a screeching black skid mark three-feet long.  Then they would ride off laughing and popping wheelies with smug satisfaction.

After the long, long, very long walk to the end of the street, about 200 yards, we would have to cross a busy two-lane road. Sometimes there was a crossing guard, but usually not.  We were street-savvy Catholic school kids though, so if there wasn’t a car within 20-feet either direction, or if we didn’t think they were coming too fast, we’d bolt across.

Beyond the busy road lies a set of train tracks.  About 85% of the time, a train would be sitting on the tracks.  Just sitting.  So then a decision had to be made: Would it be better to risk death by crawling under the train or risk the wrath of Sister Mary Somebody for being late.  Always, we crawled under the train.  If you got your shoe caught on the track and got your leg cut off, as legend had it had happened to some girl whose name no one ever knew, then at least you’d have a good excuse and you could be certain that even Sister probably wouldn’t whack the hands of an amputee.

Once you made it past the train tracks, then came real danger.  Then you had to walk past a rat hole of a doughnut shop.  And my oh my, the smell of fresh baked doughnuts on a cold Midwest morning could lead a girl into temptation.  I never had the 20 cents it took to buy a doughnut and therefore never had any hope of getting a doughnut, but my saliva glands never gave up hope.  To make matters more unjust, my brother Jim who always seemed to have money, would get one.  I’d see his bike leaned up against the building and when I looked in the windows, sure enough there he’d be sitting at the counter eating a doughnut.

On the walk home from school, we’d go the reverse route; past the doughnut shop, across the busy road and under the train, but on the way back we’d traverse a fairly steep ditch just on the other side of the tracks.  The ditch was home to unsavory creatures like chiggers and cockle burs that would stick to your socks and shoe laces.  On the other side of the ditch was an old-timey garage that had a Dr. Pepper machine inside and one of those 10-2-4 signs.  Sometimes four or five of us would manage to scrape up 15 cents among us and we’d go in and buy an Orange Nehi or a Dr. Pepper out of the soda machine.  And when the cap was popped, oh the sound!  ChhSsshAAAaaah! — the sound of impending pleasure.  The bottle would come out of the machine so cold that it had frost on the outside and the soda was actually icy.  We’d each take a swig and I have to tell you, to this day, it remains the coldest most refreshing thing I could ever hope to put to my lips.

So yes, at the root of my love of walking to school is my own nostalgia.  I walked to school for eight years and have mostly fond memories.  And I want that for Sean. Of course his memories will be quite different, safer and more sanitary hopefully, but they will be his own.

My hope is that the memory of the three of us walking to school will burrow somewhere deep into his brain and return to warm his heart long after my bones have returned to the earth.  And maybe when he thinks back on these days of walking to school he will be reminded not just of the how the leaves crunched underfoot or of some silly or dangerous thing he did, but how much his mommy and daddy delighted in him.

* * * * *

Another walking home story, this one involving a pumpkin.

34 thoughts on “Walking To School

  1. Don’t ya wish you could go by a doughnut shop or Dr. Pepper machine? mmmmmmmmmm…. I could walk my kiddos to school when they were in elementary, too. Precious, precious days — truly, the days that I am grieving the most as they are in middle and high school. It’s the leaf crunching, spider-web finding that allows all of us to find out about the day and what makes them tick.

  2. How sad that personal business has kept me from your blog. You’ve got me thinking back to my childhood years of walking to school with my brother (and the throngs of other kids). Great memories…

  3. Things were so different up north. We didn’t have sidewalks. We rode a bus and waited for it at the end of the street, where moms couldn’t see us until it came. I can’t believe the train tracks….! Catholic school stories beat them all.

  4. Beautiful! I have fond memories of school walks, too. Last year, the boys and I had to have a long, hard talk about the fact that the school bus was a reasonable compromise, we DO love the Earth even tho we guzzle gas….otherwise, it would take them approximately 2.5 hours EACH WAY to walk to school. The joys of country life….I think I’ll call my best school-walking friend and reminisce about 7-11 and boys chasing us home – thanx for the memories!

  5. What a fun journey with you to and from school! We always lived too far away from school to walk, but we did walk to the bus stop on the corner. (Sadly, there were no doughnut shops or soda machines or even train tracks on the way). The most exciting thing that ever happened was the day we came across a dead bat. The only thing I really remember thinking is that it was smaller than what I had always imagined.

    Anyway, thanks for the trip!

  6. I love the walk to school. I love, in lower Manhattan, seeing all the kids going in all directions at 7:50 a.m., some perched in front of parents on bikes, some riding on the back, some on scooters, some on foot…. Some of the families have dogs in tow, and we usually run into several other kids on the way to school.

    The Offspring said “No fair!” when I told him I walked to kindergarten alone at five. Still … I told him he’d have to wait a few years.

  7. Sean will remember. And when he is walking his children to school, you’ll be referred to AGM and AGD. (And those frosty cold drinks of yore? Absolutely the best.) Glad you are back in bloggyland.

  8. How could he not remember? When the senses are engaged, memories root deep. It’s a simple, sweet practice that I wish I could give to my own children. (But since school is 10 miles away, I think we’ll have to continue to drive.)

  9. I can relate to your story. I also walked to school by myself in first grade, and have fond memories.

    Enjoy these special times with your son.

  10. This post made me smile.

    My 5th grade self was in charge of walking my kindergarten (middle) brother up the hill to school. (Mom and the other two boys were across town at the “Little School” while Dad worked in another town.) I feel sorry now for that 6 year old boy saddled with his 10 year old sister fussing at him to hurry up! He was busy inspecting the leaves, the sticks, the frogs, the bugs…really anything that lay along the road as we walked up the hill to school. I was sure we were going to be LATE because he wouldn’t hurry.

    Here we are 40 years later and he still talks to me and loves me anyway. 🙂

  11. That’s what I adore about kids. The world feels much richer through their eyes. Next year, I’ll be walking my twins to school. Will make sure we look out for the crunchy leaves…

  12. I grew up in the country and was always jealous of kids who walked to school. So when my husband and I were deciding where to live I was thrilled when we found just the right house that was two blocks from the elementary school, six blocks from the middle school, and a half mile from the high school. Perfect! But do my kids appreciate it? Mmmm, not so much. 🙂

  13. I walked for a portion of elementary school. It seemed like such a long walk, particularly once when we were sent home due to a blizzard (a VERY rare occurrence in the Northeast!) But I did cherish the sense of freedom, and autonomy.
    About 10 years ago, I found myself without a car, and had to walk about a mile to catch a bus to work. Along the way, I passed a stretch of forest that had the previously unnoticed (by me, at least) most beautiful flowers I’d ever seen. I considered it a gift. There are so many things that we whizz by daily, not even knowing the amazing things we’re missing.
    I am sure Sean will treasure the memory of your family walks to school.

  14. Funny .. I thought I was the ONLY one to have fond memories of donuts on the way to school! We bought an apple on the return home!!

  15. Lovely! Although the crawling under the train part made me gasp! My 8 year old said the same thing about the leaves–“My favorite part of fall is hearing my shoes crunch the leaves.”

  16. Oh, my goodness, that is so beautifully sweet. I can’t tell you what comfort that story brings to my heart as my boys grow older… sigh.

  17. My sibs and cronies attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic School in Maywood, CA. We were richly blessed by railroad tracks with actual moving trains. No gates or flashing red lights. Someone always knew the train schedules. Often we’d sneak a penny from our mother’s purse—OK, several pennies.

    While waiting for the oncoming train, the pennies were placed on the rails. Then we’d stand back, scream while we waited, wave to the “conductor” in the cabbose, and then try to find our transformed pennies.

    Pennies flat as notebook paper were a handsome reward for our thievery. Your post brought these memories back like the rush of the trains, the excitement, the pretend danger, the guilt of stealing. Thank you for that gift.

    * * *
    We were told that putting a penny on the track would derail the train. The scientific experiments I conducted proved that to be false.

  18. My husband was just telling me the other day that he didn’t want our son to ever ride the school bus. Our son is only 15 months old, but my husband is a former middle school choir director and has enough experience with kids on buses to know to stay away from that. I assured him that I planned to drive our little one to school every day, but now I’m kind of hoping that we’re close enough to walk. My son has just recently started walking next to me, holding my finger, and I think it’s the sweetest thing ever. Heaven.

  19. Oh I remember walking to school! I went a long ways by myself from age 6 or so. And now I kiss mine goodbye at the door and they head off for the bus stop. Lovely post!

  20. I think I might have walked to school twice in my young life; there wasn’t a straight shot to it, but a largely unnavigable field. No trains, fortunately.

    When that field was developed into commercial viability, one of the shops that opened was a doughnut shop, where in the afternoon I’d sometimes stop and pick up two doughnuts and a small Dr. Pepper. Those were great times.

  21. I grew up in Orange County, CA, in the early 1970’s and only got to walk to school–through a populated, middle-class neighborhood, no less–for about 3 or 4 months before two men tried to hold my friend and me at gunpoint on our way home from first grade. Unbelievable, right? So, yeah…we never walked to or from school again.

    However, I do have very fond memories of my mother and I walking down to the shopping center on Saturdays. We would walk, hand in hand, all the way. I remember thinking how soft and warm her hands were, and how much I loved her, and she, me. By far, those are some of my favorite memories.

    I’m sure Sean will feel the same.

  22. Well. . .look at you all writing and giving me a gift today!!! Love this. . .and Sean will delight in this memory just like you delight in him now.

  23. I couldn’t agree more on that, walking the kids to school is a pleasure. Too bad ,doesn’t last forever=)

  24. AM, Your walking to school piece brings back great memories for me, walking to school in SW Oklahoma many years ago. I can’t believe Sean is that grown up now, Wow. Best to you and AD

  25. I didn’t have the trains or ditches, but I too had to pass a donut shop every day on my way to and from school… gave me a complex for donuts!

    Your post brings back memories 🙂 I’m thankful we live in an area where my kids will be able to walk to school.

  26. As always, great post! We also walked to school, though in Southern California we didn’t have snow or mountains, just the occasional pedaphile. (ick) I remember, though, when my oldest brother learned to drive and it was an unusually wet winter, rain poured for days. My mom ‘made’ him drive me to junior high one morning. He hardly stopped before he told me to get out and I hopped out of the van into a huge puddle! The walk home, still raining, was fun, though! My friend and I had a blast until we engaged the wrath of the corner market owner when we rambled through the store leaving a stream of water behind us! Most days we walked or rode our bikes, though.

  27. Thanks for the wonderful school memories yours brought back for me. I loved walking to school. Odd coincidence…I was just blogging about walking the neighborhood on Halloween night without parental supervision. Those days are long gone. The memories we have of the “good ol’ days” are so different from what today’s children’s memories will be. I’m glad you’re making sure Sean has good memories of his school days.

  28. I would walk my daughter to school, but there’s a HILL in the way! Instead, I let her walk with the neighbor mom (I pick up, via car). Someday I’ll conquer that hill…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *