ENID, Okla. —
They were two of the great truisms of childhood — look both ways when you cross the street and don’t talk to strangers.
Of course in my day, just after the time of the dinosaurs, nearly everybody walked to school.
It was just what you did.
Oh, some kids who lived in the country rode the bus, and the privileged few got a ride from their parents, but they were in the vast minority.
The rest of us relied on our feet.
Neither rain, nor snow, nor all that other stuff, could keep us from our appointed rounds. We were kind of like the post office in that sense, except we had books and bubble gum in our bags, not bills.
We quickly learned the ins and outs of our daily commute, whose yards we could cut through and those we couldn’t, whether because of the presence of barking dogs or growling homeowners.
Some kids walked alone, others with groups. A pecking order developed, a social hierarchy. Cliques formed.
You stood a better chance of avoiding the occasional bully if you were part of a group, much like a lone fish is much more likely to wind up lunch for a hungry shark than one that is part of a vast school.
We didn’t walk because we wanted to, or because it was cool, or healthy, or environmentally sound, we just did it because that was the way we got to school.
We didn’t think about the fact we were getting exercise as we made our way to and from school, that walking was somehow good for us. We just knew we often got cold and wet and tired and always were especially glad when we arrived home at the end of the day.
Our conversations on those walks centered around school, which teachers were mean and which were nice, who our friends were and who we were on the outs with.
We talked about what we’d watched on TV the night before and the music we liked. We made fun of each other, trading jabs and insults at nearly every step.
And when we tired of picking on each other, we ridiculed the kids who weren’t in our social circles, those we considered different or strange.
Most of those trips to and from school were decidedly un-memorable. One simply morphed into another in an endless progression of short strides and small footsteps.
Of all my hundreds of trips to and from various schools throughout the years I can clearly remember only a few, one vividly.
It was 50 years ago next month.
I walked home alone that afternoon, squinting against the glare of the setting late November sun, lost in my thoughts, dealing with a miasma of emotions, pondering my future in a nation whose young president’s life had been snuffed out just hours before.
Walking to school is a big deal these days, and especially today, which has been designated International Walk to School Day.
Students throughout the country will walk to school today to promote exercise, lower demands on school busing systems, reduce traffic congestion and resulting air pollution, and get kids off their behinds and on their feet.
Some 4,300 schools across the country participated in last year’s event.
Of course, for this event parents are being encouraged to walk with their children, and local public safety personnel will be involved.
Not in those days.
We would have been horrified if our parents had tagged along, and the only public safety personnel we encountered were the student volunteer crossing guards, who seemed much older than we, but in truth, weren’t.
The website for International Walk to School Day says walking to school is “the first step to change community culture and to create options for getting around that are more inviting to everyone, both young and old.”
Wow, who knew. We just walked because that was the only way we got to school and back.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.