Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Walking....

Today, when I left to walk, since it's hot, it was before seven, and I had to wait for four ducks to cross the road.

BTW: These were not black ducks.

These were mallards -- or "teals" as David called them.

These ducks took their time -- in fact, one waddle butt just stood there daring me to honk or run over him.

He walked up and back, quacking and quacking, before he decided to walk off the road -- then he and his cronies, flew off together like a toddler had just been let loose with stale bread, all low to the ground and over a fence. One of them must have had "easy food" sonar.

Wildlife. They can do some strolling -- reminds me of the bison in Yellowstone.

Except bigger.

Since I have been deliberately walking in circles for exercise, I have been thinking about "walking."

Yes, when I was in elementary school, I walked to and from school.

When I was in high school at Sylvan High School in Atlanta, I rode the bus, or my dad dropped me off, but if I stayed after for clubs, drill-team practice, or to get a gander at the boys at sports practice with their shirts off, I usually walked home. Two miles.... up and down and around Brewer Boulevard....

No, not five miles in the snow uphill both ways like my parents generation scoffed when we balked about walking to school.

They weren't exaggerating too much, my parents. They did, in fact, walk a long way, and it did snow. In fact, my daddy liked it when it snowed cause he got to ride a horse. My mother always claimed that my daddy was spoiled [an only child] because there was a horse "free" to take him -- since she said, "All we had were working horses."

I went to Perkerson Elementary School in southwest Atlanta, and the school was less than a block from my home. It was like a tenth of a mile, if that.

I don't think anyone measures distance by blocks anymore. At least no one who lives in suburbia, but since we walked many places, including in downtown Atlanta, we measured by blocks or gave directions by blocks. My daddy distinguished it as "city blocks." He grew up on a farm in Missouri -- maybe something in his head was left over from the Homesteaders.


The problem was -- to me -- not that my elementary school, Perkerson, was that far, but that when I got to the fence that surrounded the school -- I still had to cross a huge, I mean HUGE playground to actually get to the building.

The blueprint of the school and the school grounds can be compared to that of home plate (as in baseball).

Imagine that the curved part of the plate was the playground -- next to my house -- and the playground faced Brewer Boulevard, a street that ran through the neighborhood where I grew up. The school itself faced Perkerson Road, which was a "bit" farther.

BTW: I love the old terms for directions -- "down a ways," "a bit," "not too far," "a little on down,""long ways," and "blocks."

The top of the plate in the squared part was where the school sat -- the parking lot to the right of the school that sat next to the building, where teachers parked, was gravel -- and a gravel one way road for cars cut through the school connecting it from the top of Brewer Boulevard (its north entrance) to Fleet Street that emptied out to Lakewood Shopping Center, the first open air mall of its kind in Atlanta -- but that's a blog for another time. The public library was also at the foot of that street. See blog -- The Library Then and Now.

In fact, my elementary school was at one end of Brewer Boulevard, and my high school, Sylvan, at the other -- and the distance to the high school? Like I said, "maybe two miles?

So walking places as a child, the directions all had to do with how they related to Brewer Boulevard. We lived at one end -- and the kids who lived at the other went to a different elementary school.

Literally, directions went like this:

To go to the grocery store -- go right on Brewer.
To church -- cross Brewer.
To go to the library -- go left.
To go see my grade school friend --- on the other side of Brewer.

And I didn't go anywhere else. .. or at least anywhere else where I might have walked.

At the time, it was such a big world -- but when I visited the area -- many years later -- so small. You guys know this who have visited the elementary school or gone back to the old neighborhood.

It is relative to the times, my size, and the fact that we walked most places. The late fifties and early sixties, even with the automobile, was still ambulatory for the kids I knew and with whom I grew up.

It's hard for me to know how big the playground was -- but it was the biggest playground of the three elementary schools that fed into my high school: Sylvan(just like the high school), Capitol View, and Perkerson.

Surrounded by a chain link fence, tall enough that we couldn't jump over it, not even the biggest or oldest of kids, the playground had two entrances to the street. Both opening to Brewer -- one to my street, Oana, and the street that ran parallel to mine, Bader.

Lots of the wild kids lived on Bader.

I guess I'd better not call any names here.

*waves to Van Wing*

The playground had two full sized baseball fields, a basketball court, two slides,two sets of monkey bars, two-see saws, and four gigantic swing sets with four swings each. The swing sets, encased in cement, were at least fifteen feet tall and made of steel. They were beasts -- we used to swing as high as we could and then get airborne jumping from them. I'm pretty sure it was against school rules, but after school -- many a kid walked away from there with broken wrists or arms.

The entrances did not have gates, but they had two openings -- a hard right or a hard left with a piece of fence in the middle to block the road - the fence, I guess, protecting children from accidentally running out of it while they chased a ball. I don't know why it was like this -- perhaps it was expedient -- as kids could flow through it better than what a gate would do -- again... it may be a playground gate.

We also had crossing guards to help the younger children to cross from Oana to the school sidewalk and then to the school. They were members of the elite "Safety Patrol."

This job of crossing guard or the Safety Patrol, reserved for the upper grades --fifth, sixth, and seventh, required that the wanna-be take a course and master the secret handshake and went to the most astute and responsible of these patrollers.

I don't remember these young people being juvenile delinquents or freaks --just nerdy boys and girls who enjoyed badges, a white elasticized strap/belt like thing that crossed the chest to join with a white strap around the waist -- all with a complicated, adjustable buckle.

Cool attire --- oh yes, and power.

The Safety Patrol strutted the halls and playgrounds like the gestapo.

The members of the Safety Patrol, after all, did control when we got to cross the street.

There were only so many crossing jobs available -- so I don't know what other jobs the safety patrol had. Did they line us up at the milk machine at lunch?

Help us cross the gravel parking lot?

Remind us to dive under our desks during the "the drills" associated with the age of the nuke?

I just remember the crossing guard and his power at the crosswalk.

Big power to a first or second grader.... and a strange combination of "cool" and "nerdy."

My oldest brother was a crossing guard, and he enjoyed holding his hand up to stop the traffic and then nodding his head to allow us to cross the street -- of course, not acting or acknowledging in any way that he was related to us.

Our street probably spit out about fifteen children who had to be "guarded" on their way to school... and it's not like there was tons of traffic.

The other entrance was at the top of the street that ran parallel to mine -- the Bader entrance, since that was the name of the street.

The kids who lived on the opposite side of the school -- the side the front of the school faced actually crossed "The Bridge," which was built when the freeway came. I don't remember before "the freeway," but my brother sort of did who was five years older than me. I suppose they were the only students who came through the front door of the school -- the rest of us -- the Brewer side came in the back door.

Even though we had a huge playground, Perkerson was a small school -- one kindergarten class (since kindergarten was an option) and then two classes of each of the subsequent grades after --- at one point, Perkerson had either a banner birth year or a year of students who were "held back" because we had two fourth and fifth grades, and a fourth and fifth grade combination.

We knew everyone who went to school there.
And we walked.

It is hard for me to fathom the mega, elementary schools of today that have fifteen and twenty first grades alone. No wonder they have to be bussed -- if you had to let all of those kids in by the crossing guards, school wouldn't' start till ten.

BTW: I remember that my next door-neighbor, Marcie, whose family had two cars [they were rich!!!] --- if it were raining, her mother would drive her the 0.2 tenths of a mile to school to drop her off. I'm telling you -- it was "fer." Sometimes, I got to ride too. Big times. Big times.

What a different time -- the time of walking -- and if we lived in a town or a place where walking was encouraged -- you know -- sidewalks, no hills (LOL), and not these huge neighborhoods tucked miles from the nearest grocery, we might walk more.

Eh. Probably not.

But there is to me, in my strange thinking mind, a little irony in driving to a track to walk in circles.

Just sayin'.


  1. I grew up in New Orleans, but my relatives in Shreveport had directions just like "down a ways and a bit" (and I understood what that meant!). And my school had patrol boys, slightly geeky during most of the day but once they had their official attire on when the closing bell rang, watch out! Gestapo wasn't too strong a word.

  2. We went to Westchester Elementary school on Ponce de Leon and walked from Dogwood Way, probably 3 blocks. We had one of each grade level and my second grade teacher was married to the principal's son, who was our dentist. The dentist's office, by the way, had a bomb shelter in the basement along with all of the signage showing where to go in case the Cubans showed up. When Dr. King was killed, in 1968, we moved to "the country" where we then had a party line, classmates with outhouses and a school that was built in the late 1800s. Doesn't seem so long ago until now. Gee, thanks for that.

  3. Where I grew up in Canada, I walked to school from 1st to 3rd grade. Then I moved here and discovered buses.

  4. I didn't think any Southerner could give directions without the phrase "as the crow flies." By the way, I was one of those patrol nerds, but we had fluorescent orange belts, and all we were allowed to do was raise the flag each morning and take it down each afternoon. Learning to fold it properly probably took us weeks to master. Thanks for the trip (walk?) down memory lane. We should take a day trip to visit your childhood neighborhood.