Thanks to Donna Pointkowski of What’s Past is Prologue for her article “The Walk Home,” which inspired this post.
As I read Donna’s evocative description of her walk home from school, I was seized by the thought: “Oh, yes, I remember my walks home very well! What a great subject to write about!”
And then I thought about it. I could remember the geometric shape and general distance of the various walks home I made in elementary school, high school, and my first junior high school (the other four junior highs, which I attended for less than a full year in each case and were located in areas that I never really became familiar with, blur together).
But I could not remember many specific sights – no houses or landmarks stood out in my mind. Because, you see, I had and continue to have a habit of walking while looking at the ground. I do remember kicking fall leaves and feeling a crisp fall chill in the air.
But when you are looking at the ground or spaced out in daydream-land, most of your surroundings do not make much of an impression.
And looking at the ground was why I found the ten-dollar bill on the way home from Davidson Elementary School when I was in first grade. My mother drove me to and from school when I was in kindergarten, but from first grade on I walked. And this day I was walking home with Pam P., a friend and neighbor who lived two doors down from us. She saw it shortly after I did, perhaps alerted by my sharp intake of breath. I was a bit closer, but she was a bit smaller and faster, so our hands landed on the bill at the same time.
This was early 1960s money. Ten dollars was nothing to turn your nose up at, especially for two six-year-olds.
Neither of us relinquished our hold on the bill. We looked at one another, sizing up one another’s resolve to hold on and calculating the legitimacy of our respective claims. There was no getting around it – our claim and our resolve were equal.
“Someone must have dropped this.”
“I wonder if they’re looking for it.”
“Too late now.”
Our hands were still on the bill. Then the inspiration hit one of us.
“We have to get two five dollar bills for this.”
We were still holding onto the bill.
“I’ll take it to my dad; he’ll have two fives,” volunteered Pam.
“My house is closer.”
A pause. “Well, we’ll check at your house first and then at my house.”
For some reason, from that point Pam trusted me to carry the bill. I don’t remember which set of parents we got change from, but we ended up satisfied and remained friends after that close call.
The other incident that stands out in my memory had to do with a horse. My walk home from my second elementary school, Warm Springs, passed by a couple of small farms. I guess you couldn’t really call them farms; perhaps they were what was left after a farm was split up. Still, there were a few crops and on one of them, a horse. On the way home from school I used to stop and pet the horse, talk to him, and give him some of the lunch carrots that I never ate, or an apple if I had one. It got to the point that he would come trotting over as soon as he heard my voice.
But one day he would not come all the way over to see me. He took a few tentative steps, but stopped well short of the fence. I noticed that there was an extra wire on top of the fence. Perhaps that had spooked him? I started to speak to him and put my hand out and up to let him know that it was all right … all right …
I could no longer see or hear anything; I could no longer move. A hot, painful jolt went through my body. After a frightening second or two passed, my hand was no longer touching the wire. Fear, pain, and indignation welled up in me. He was afraid of an electrified wire. No wonder he would come no closer. “Good boy, it’s OK,” I whispered and walked on home, numb and in pain at the same time.
After that I continued to walk by the farm and would always say something to him, but I would not stop, just in case he might forget and come over to the fence. Sometime that year the people who owned the little piece of land must have moved. The horse was gone and the field was cleared out.
On one occasion a school friend who took the bus home talked me into getting an extra ticket from the front office. I did so, but after my friend was dropped off, I could not recognize the stop for my street. Everything looked different from the bus, and I had never paid close attention, anyway. At the end of the route, I had to admit defeat and shyly ask the driver to take me to Lankershim. He drove me back a ways, and there it was. Better to walk. Better to take my nice, familiar dirt path.