Last Friday, a couple dozen students walked to Saugatuck Elementary School.
In another time — even today, in much of the world — this would no more be news than “breathing is the key to life” or “the Duggars have a shitload of kids.”
Here, in 2012, it rated a photo on WestportNow.com.
Last Friday’s remarkable walk to Saugatuck Elementary School. (Photo/Gina Beranek for WestportNow.com)
I understand this post will strike nerves. I am sure some people will be appalled that these kids walked once to school all year — when of course the sun was shining (and they were probably monitored all the way by cell phone). They may even have had a police escort.
I am sure some other people will cite very legitimate reasons why kids no longer walk to school regularly, such as that Riverside Avenue now resembles the Indianapolis Speedway (though without the safety features), and that it is amazing kids can walk at all, seeing as one requirement for entering 1st grade is buying a backpack and filling it with 120 pounds of
books bricks god knows what’s in there.
Me, circa 6th grade. Those were the days.
So I will not take sides in this issue. I will, however, recount my own experiences in the school year of — well, you really don’t need to know. Let’s just say Burr Farms Elementary School had not yet been dismantled, and sold as scrap metal.
The summer before 6th grade, a few friends and I decided to celebrate our upcoming final year by walking every day to school, and back home. We could take a bus, mind you — we always had — but now we decided to hoof it. No matter what the weather, we would walk.
Our parents said 2 things. The 1st was, basically, “You are far stupider than we ever thought.”
The 2nd was, “Meh.” Or “Whatever.” Or whatever the 1960s version of those words were.
My buddies and I all lived on High Point Road. We had 2 routes to Burr Farms. One took us through back yards — Moss Ledge, Elmwood, Linda Lane, Adams Farm — until we crossed North Avenue, trooped up Blackberry, and arrived at the Burr Farms gym.
We trespassed on dozens of properties. No one ever said a word.
The alternate route took us across the Staples field hockey field, past the newly constructed 9 building, out the high school south entrance, down North Avenue, and through the fields that once belonged to Farmer Rippe (and now, in an architectural homage, are silo-sporting homes on very randomly named Greystone Farm Lane).
Burr Farms Elementary. Buses were for wimps. (Computer image by Steve Katz)
We set a goal, and we achieved it. Every single day, from September through June — in glorious fall and spring, through rain and wind and sleet and every kind of weather — we walked to and from school.
When it snowed, we tromped across the Staples fields. We arrived at Burr Farms wet and cold, but we didn’t care. We were the walkers. We were cool.
I have no idea what we talked about on those 180 days, back and forth, back and forth. The conversations were probably the same as the 4 kids in “Stand By Me.” When you’re 11 years old and you walk with your friends, you talk about nothing. And everything.
The “Stand by Me” kids could have been us (without the sleeping bags and canteen).
The next year — 7th grade — we moved up to Long Lots. We walked again. This time we had no choice. The school was at the end of our road. It was half a mile away — a mile, for Glenn, Ricky and Charles.
Sometimes we walked with older kids — the 8th and 9th graders. Sometimes they bullied us. Sometimes they told us about sex. Sometimes what they said might even have been true.
When I got to Staples, and got my license, I actually drove to school. I’m embarrassed now — it took far longer to drive than walk — but that’s the way the teenage brain operates. That’s why today I never mock kids who do the same thing I once did. (Though in much spiffier cars.)
I said I wouldn’t take sides in the walking-to-Saugatuck El-once-is-a-newsworthy event?! issue.
But if you’ve read this far, you can figure out that I firmly believe you’ve got to walk the talk.