Friday, September 20, 2013

The Long Walk to School

I started writing this little story a year ago or so.  I wrote it while my students (second and third graders) worked on their own pieces in our writing workshop.  It is a memoir.  Nothing fancy.  No great shakes.    It is the memory of walking home from school for lunch with my old best friend Rick.  We were blood brothers, sworn in a solemn ceremony where we both picked off scabs and swapped some blood.    We lived close enough that we had tin can telephones from our kitchen to his bedroom.  My older twin sisters used to jump Rick, snatch him up, hold him down and smack his belly until it turned red, a practice called "cherry belly".  He usually put up a half-hearted fight, but in truth, I think he liked it.

Rick passed away in August last year.  This story was cathartic for me to write.  It reminded me of a time in our lives when our friendships were simple and true, our adventures real, and memories lasting.

It is a little long for a blog post, so I'll break it into parts.  Here is PART 1...

The Long Walk to School

When Rick Kadar and I were young, we were the smugglers for our class.  Candy smugglers.  Back in the day, Rick and I lived close enough to school so that we could walk there.  In fact, since we lived only about a mile away, we were no longer allowed to take the big yellow school bus.  But we didn’t mind the walk at all.  We liked trudging through the deep snow, through the empty lots and the new home construction sites.  We walked to school kicking cans and watching birds and jumping over puddles.

            Because we lived so close, we were among the lucky ones who could walk home for lunch.  Unfortunately, we also missed a lot of recess.  But that was fine with us.  For that little amount of time right in the middle of the day, we were free.  Right in the center of the school day, Rick and I could walk through the sunshine or the wind, through leaves or ice covered snow.  There were no grownups to interfere with our childish freedom.  For about 50 minutes we were on our own. 

            My mom was a school teacher so when I got home at lunchtime I let myself in and made my own lunch.  Some days I ate at Rick’s.  His mom made the best food and did fancy stuff like cut the sandwiches in half on the diagonal.  They had Coke to drink, something that was never allowed in our house.  They used paper napkins at every meal.  At my house we were pretty heavy on leftovers or the classic PB and J with a glass of milk.  I liked eating at Rick’s.  His mom was there almost every day.  Her name was Arlene.  She was a small woman, very pretty, very petite and very kind.  She had cool cat-glasses, the kind I wished my mom wore.
            When Rick and  I walked home we took the shortcuts between houses and through woods.  We didn’t have a whole lot of time, but we usually stopped off at the candy store. 
            Back in those days you could get a LOT of candy for a little money at Ameling’s Sundries.  Truly.  For 15 cents you could get 15 pieces of real candy.  That could last you a real long time.  Our friends at school would pay us to stop by the candy store and buy candy for them.  They would give us a nickel or a dime extra so we could get a treat for ourselves as well.  Rick usually had a little extra money.  His parents paid him to do the same household chores we had to do for nothing.  When we griped about it, my dad would say, “You get food, right?  You get all the clothes you need?  Then that’s your allowance.”

If you had a quarter (a “quack” to us) your bag would be some kind of full.
            While I doubt that our teachers would have sanctioned it, we were never strictly forbidden to go to the candy store.  But I don’t think that the priests, nuns and lay teachers would have approved.

            Flying saucers, Necco wafers red and black licorice, dots, buttons, bottle caps, kisses and, if we were willing to go whole hog and spend 2 cents, you could buy a box of licorice snaps.  They gave you a little paper bag for your goods. 
       Our neighborhood was divided into blocks of houses.  Rick and I lived next door to each other on Adams Street.  My address was 5600 Adams.  Funny, after all these years I still remember my phone number 887-3910.  That was back in the day before cell phones and all of Indiana had the same area code, 219.  There was just one layer of houses on each street so there was sort of an empty space between back yards.  If there weren’t fences these empty spaces became our shortcuts.  And we trespassed regularly through backyards and between hedges.  Some of our neighbors were irritated by this.  Some were downright angry.  But when you only had 50 minutes or so to get home and back to school (and work in a candy run to Ameling’s Sundries) one had to do a little law-breaking.
Our fifth grade path home for lunch took us through the backyard shortcuts on the block across the street from ours.  In one fenced in backyard was a sheepdog, a boy dog.  He belonged to the Davies.  Rick and I would stop and pet it nearly every day.  It came to expect us because it was usually waiting, standing on hind legs, front legs resting on top of the chain link fence.
Buckley is the name that comes back to me after all these years.  Buckley.  He was part of our daily ritual, our walking-home-for-lunch routine.  Buck was a good dog and I loved that big old thing.  He was smelly and matted and greasy.  Occasionally they would cut the shaggy hair from around his eyes.  It must have been a shock for Buckley to suddenly see the bright sunlight without the filter of that long wiry hair over its eyes.  

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