Walking to School

One thing on many parents’ minds is how their children will get to and from school now that classes are in full swing. Some students take the bus while others are driven, but how many children walk to school anymore?

During the first six years of my education in the 1960’s and early 70’s, we were living in Tucson, Arizona. Because of my visual impairment, I spent the first five and a half years at a state school for the blind before being mainstreamed into a public school. Because these facilities were too far to walk, and there was no bus, my parents drove me to and from school each day. However, I read stories about other children walking to and from school and longed to be able to do that.

When we moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1973, my wish came true. For the first couple of years we lived there, our house was at the top of a hill, and the elementary school my brother and I attended was at the bottom. During sixth-grade, I delighted in walking to and from school with other kids.
When I started seventh grade, the junior high school was farther away. Dad wanted me to walk, but Mother prevailed, and I took the bus. I did walk half a mile to and from the bus stop each day, and that was fun.

In the spring of my eighth grade year, we moved to another house that was not within a school bus route. This time, Dad said I could walk, and Mother didn’t argue. It was a mile, the longest I’d ever walked. The route took me through downtown, so when Dad walked with me, he showed me how to cross busy streets with traffic lights by listening and watching the direction the vehicles were traveling.

Once I got the hang of it, I loved the long walk to and from school. I often stopped downtown, either at Brown Drug or The Palace Café, and had a milkshake. That was my after-school snack.

High school was a different matter. My main obstacle was a busy street with no four-way stop sign or light. At this point, I was given a cane that I held in front of me while standing at the corner in the hope that someone would stop. Hardly anyone did, and I often waited a long time for a break in traffic before dashing across.

After that, it was smooth sailing, through the park and up the hill. Thanks to that intersection, though, I soon lost interest in walking, especially in winter when the boardwalk up the hill was slick with snow and ice, and there was no railing. I was only too happy when my parents started driving me to and from school each day, although I could tell my father was disappointed.

I understand his disappointment. Because he had to walk to school every day as a kid, it was only fair that his children should do the same. I wish I’d continued to brave that intersection. Better yet, I could have taken a longer route.

In the good old days, many children in rural areas walked over a mile to and from school each day. I remember reading in The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder about Laura and her sister walking home from school one day during a raging blizard.

Nowadays, I see children getting off of school buses every day but rarely encounter them walking to or from school. Because of security concerns, real or imagined, many parents are too over-protective. This is sad. Whatever happened to the good old days?

***

Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Little Apartment in the Big City

Thanks to Ella for inspiring this. In her post, she talks about moving to a different location and starting a job in a place where she knows no one and has to prove herself. This is daunting for anyone but can be complicated by a disability. In what I’m about to relate, some names have been changed to protect privacy.

In 1987, Fargo, North Dakota, was large compared to my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming. A music therapy student, I was accepted for an internship in a nursing home there. Although I was anxious to be on my own in a new place, I felt some trepidation, as my parents and I drove into the town late one Sunday night in August after being on the road for twelve hours. I was comforted by the fact that my parents would stay with me until I found a place to live and got settled and that my internship wouldn’t start until the middle of September.

We found a motel near the freeway where we spent the night. The next morning, Dad bought a local paper and a city map. He scoured the classified ad section for apartments. After making phone calls and arranging to see a few that he found, we checked out of the motel and ate breakfast before beginning our home hunting adventure.

Because of my visual impairment, it was important to find a place within easy walking distance to the nursing home where I would work for the next six months. We had no luck. The apartments were either not affordable, too small, or didn’t meet my needs for other reasons.

A few hours later, discouraged, we were driving aimlessly, looking for a place to eat lunch when Mother said, “Oh look, there’s a senior citizen high rise like the ones in Sheridan.”

“It’s a little too far for her to walk to the nursing home,” said Dad.

“They probably have a minibus like the one in Sheridan that could take her,” said Mother. “They could also take her to the grocery store.”

“She doesn’t want to live with old folks,” said Dad, as he pulled into the parking lot.

I was thinking the same thing but said nothing. As we walked into the lobby, Mother said, “There’s a bulletin board, and it says which apartments are empty. It looks like there are several.”

In the office, we spoke to the manager. “You really don’t want to live with old folks, do you?” he asked.

Were my thoughts being broadcast to the world? “She’ll be working at Red River Care Center,” said Mother. “It’s a little far for her to walk so maybe your minibus could take her.”

“Our van only takes people shopping and to medical appointments,” said the manager. “Besides, this facility only serves senior citizens.” I was relieved, but where would I live?

After lunch at a nearby McDonald’s, we found several other apartment buildings that weren’t designated for senior citizens, but none of them had vacancies. “What about downtown?” asked Dad. “You could take the bus to the Red River Care Center.”

“Yeah, why didn’t I think of that?” I said, feeling hopeful. “When I went to that stupid rehab center in Topeka several years ago, I learned how to take buses.”

“I don’t know,” said Mother. “You might have to change buses and…”

“Maybe not,” said Dad. “If you get an apartment downtown close to the transfer point, then you’d just have to take one bus. Let’s go take a look.”

We found the city bus transfer station which was right next to the greyhound terminal. “Now you know where to go to catch the bus home for Christmas,” said Mother, as we parked in the lot between the two bus stations.

The holiday season was farthest from my mind, as we entered the city bus center. To my surprise, the gentleman behind the counter was very helpful. When we told him I was looking for a place to live downtown in the hope of having easy access to work, he said, “Oh yeah, if you live close to here, you’ll just take one bus to the Red River Care Center. In fact, there’s a building a few blocks away that might have an opening. It’s an old hotel that was converted into apartments. It’s called Grant Street Place.”

We found a pay phone, and after locating the apartment building’s address and phone number, Dad called and made an appointment for the next day. We then found another motel room.

The next morning at 9 a.m., we arrived at Grant Street Apartments, a six-story structure located on a busy downtown thoroughfare. In the lobby, a woman greeted us and introduced herself as Becky, one of two managers. “We have a lot of young people here,” she said. “There are also quite a few older people. We all look out for each other.”

The two vacant apartments were an efficiency and a one-bedroom. I liked them both, but the efficiency only had a couch that folded into a bed, and I didn’t want to mess with that. Since the rent on both apartments was about the same, I chose the one-bedroom.

The rooms were small but usable. There was a combination living and dining room with a kitchenette, a full bathroom on one side, and a bedroom on the other. The kitchenette had a sink, microwave, two-burner stove, and small refrigerator with freezer under the counter. The main room and bedroom had light gray carpeting, and the bathroom had a white-tiled floor. The apartment overlooked an alley so although there wasn’t much of a view, there wasn’t much street noise, either. It was simply furnished with an armchair, end table, and dining table with lamp in the main room and in the bedroom a double bed, small table, and wardrobe.

My apartment was on the fourth floor, and the basement contained a huge laundry room. All the machines were coin-operated, and I could use them easily despite my limited vision. The basement also had a beauty shop which I frequented several times during my stay.

The building had two elevators: one in the back that tenants could use independently and one in the front that was the old-fashioned kind operated by Andy, a fellow who also picked up our garbage three days a week if we remembered to leave it outside our doors. Mailboxes were located inside the rear entrance near the self-service elevator.

The next few days were a blur of activity, as we got settled in my new home. The first order of business was to get a phone. Once that was working, Mother arranged for a cleaning service to come every other week while I was at work. Dad set up an account with a local taxi company. My parents paid for both these amenities. Since utilities and cable television were included in the rent, the only expenses I had to worry about were the phone and groceries.

We found Leeby’s, a small grocery store a few blocks away, and a supermarket called Hornbacker’s, easily accessible by bus. Buses ran every hour during the week and every two hours on weekends.

My parents stayed in the apartment with me, Mother and me sleeping in the bedroom, and Dad sleeping on the floor in the main room. On Friday night, they left on their long drive back to Sheridan. Once they were gone, I was truly on my own, but I was excited.

Before I left Wyoming, I was given the phone number for the North Dakota commission for the blind in Grand Forks. I called them, and a mobility instructor came and helped me with some routes my parents and I worked out. She also gave me phone numbers for a couple of people involved in blind bowling groups in the area. I phoned them and enjoyed bowling twice a month, and I met some nice people. This was one of few good things about that city.

At first, I rarely used the taxi. It was easy to take the bus to and from the nursing home where I worked 40-hour weeks. On Saturdays, I took the bus to Hornbacker’s and did my weekly shopping. Since I didn’t have to be at work until eleven on Wednesday, I often walked to Leeby’s early that morning if I needed a few things.

Life in my little apartment wasn’t always a bed of roses. Although the building was well maintained, and most of the neighbors I met were nice, the people above me often played loud music and had parties. I called the security officer late at night when it happened and complained to the manager, and the noise subsided for a while but started back up again.

The management had a contract with an exterminator who came every six months. Because of his process of ridding the building of rodents, all cupboards, closets, and drawers had to be emptied. The night before he was scheduled to come, I took clothes, dishes, and other items out of my drawers, cupboards, and wardrobe and laid them on every available surface except the bed. When I came home from work the next day, I put everything back. This was time consuming, and because I never saw one rat, mouse, or termite, I didn’t think it necessary. For the first time, I considered not staying in Fargo after my internship ended.

Late one night, the fire alarm rang, and as we gathered in the lobby, there appeared to be no security personnel or managers in sight. The fire department arrived and found nothing so we returned to our apartments.

Winter came and with it, extreme cold, twenty-foot snowdrifts and freezing rain. One morning during a particularly bad storm, my supervisor called and told me I didn’t need to go to work. I was relieved since the local radio announcer advised against unnecessary travel, and I wasn’t sure if I could get a cab. It was nice having a snow day. After that, I used the taxi more frequently, but since Dad often talked of walking to and from school in such conditions as a kid, I wasn’t sure how he would take the higher cab bills. I needn’t have worried.

In December, I was given two weeks off for Christmas and went home. In January, my parents drove me back to Fargo. On the morning I was to return to work and they to Sheridan, it was 40 below zero. Dad went out to start the car, returning a few minutes later to say, “Dead as a doornail.”

My parents planned to drop me off at the nursing home on their way out of town. Instead, we walked to the nearby terminal and caught the bus just in time. “God damn, it’s cold,” said Dad, as we slogged through the snow from the bus stop to the nursing home. “How the hell do you do this?”

“You’ll see when you get the next taxi bill,” I said.

Several hours later after the car was fixed, they stopped by the nursing home to say goodbye before leaving town. “Don’t worry about the cab bill,” said Dad. “It’s too cold for walking.” I was relieved.

One day, my supervisor said, “I don’t think this internship is working out.”

This was a shock since I thought things were going well, though I had difficulty keeping up with the paperwork, and it took me longer to complete other tasks. I was tempted to tell her that I didn’t like her cold city and would be only too glad to go home, but I wasn’t a quitter. When times were tough, Dad always told me not to let bastards get me down. Close to tears, I said, “I’m sorry you’re not happy with my progress so far, but if you’ll give me another chance, I’ll try harder and hope to do better.”

She gave me a second chance, but I could tell she didn’t think it would work out, and it didn’t. For the next three months, I did my best, but it seemed that almost everyone including my supervisor was against me. Others in our department were cold and came down on me for minor infractions, and one or two nurses snapped at me. The only things that kept me from giving up were the residents, who appreciated my music activities, and the love and support of my parents. My little apartment downtown became a place to which I was glad to retreat at the end of the day and a refuge I hated leaving in the morning.

The staff at the nursing home weren’t the only ones with frozen hearts. Because I was only getting so much from Social Security per month and no salary from my internship, it was hard making ends meet at times. One day when I tried to cash a check Mother sent me, the bank teller said, “There isn’t enough in your account to cover this so I can’t do it.”

At the bank in Sheridan, the employees knew me. This would never have happened. I was relieved when the manager at Leeby’s agreed to cash the check.

In March, the six months of my internship were up. My overall grade was a D. I was anxious to get home, but one of the nurses who supported me asked me to sing for her wedding in April. The day after the nuptials, I was on the bus to Sheridan.

In May when the lease on my apartment was up, Dad and I returned. By then, even the apartment manager’s heart appeared frozen, although the weather was warm. “You didn’t vacuum,” she said when she inspected my apartment. “We won’t return part of your deposit for that.” Dad and I loaded all my earthly possessions into his station wagon, drove away, and never looked back.

It was a depressing six months, and perhaps I should have felt defeated, as we left town, but I did not. I took Dad’s advice and didn’t let those North Dakota bastards get me down. Despite the D grade I received in my internship, I became a registered music therapist. Six months after I moved back to Sheridan, I found a job in a nursing home where I worked for fifteen years. In the earlier part of this century, I met my late husband Bill through a magazine. The rest of the story is in My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

 

What do you remember about your first time on your own after college? Tell me about it in the comments field.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

 

After the Wedding Pawn (Fiction)

Author’s Note: I was inspired to post the following after reading Alice Massa’s story on Wordwalk last week. Alice and I are both involved with the same writers’ organization, Behind Our Eyes, and a few years ago when I was President, I gave the group several writing prompts having to do with weddings. You can click this link to hear me read my story.

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AFTER THE WEDDING PAWN

 

At the end of a long day of work, I used the tip of my cane to feel each step in front of me, as I climbed aboard the bus. When I put my token in the slot, the driver said, “Hi Frank, someone’s already in your usual seat, but the one next to it is empty. Don’t worry. I’ll still see you, and I won’t forget to tell you when I get to the corner of Mills and Watson.”

“Thanks Ed,” I said. After eight years of working at J. B. Lansing and riding the same bus back and forth every day, why was my usual seat now taken? I was too tired and frustrated to care. As I turned to walk to the next seat, the voice of the man in my seat stopped me cold. “Hey bro.”

Oh great, I thought. Wasn’t it bad enough that my new boss couldn’t work with my blindness, despite the fact that for the past eight years, I was proactive in improving the company’s computer system and that I was dedicated, with an excellent employment record? Now, here was my brother, back to make my life miserable again. “I’ll move over so you can sit here,” he said, and I heard his body shift from one seat to the next.

At least he had some manners this time, I thought, as I took the vacant seat, folded my cane, and grasped the pole in front of me, as the bus lurched forward. I turned my head in his direction and sniffed. What, no booze? I sniffed again. “I’m dry as a bone,” said Jess. “Have been for about as long as you’ve been working at JBL.”

“How did you know I was working at JBL?”

“Mom told me. She always wanted us to make up.”

“Yeah, even though she sacrificed her ring so I’d have one to give to Jackie at our wedding after you got drunk and pawned ours at the last minute. It was bad enough I couldn’t afford to buy her a good ring, but then you had to steal it.”

“I don’t remember doing that, but yes. She and Dad always respected your wishes. You didn’t want to have anything more to do with me so they didn’t have you over when I was there, and you didn’t want them to even mention my name so they didn’t.”

“But she told you all about me? Did she tell you that after you pawned Jackie’s ring, there almost wasn’t a wedding? Jackie told me for months beforehand that she didn’t trust you as best man, that I should ask my good buddy Jerry to stand up with me instead. I wanted to give you one more chance, and you blew it. When I got to the altar, Jackie almost didn’t say I do. I had to get down on my knees, literally, and promise her I would always listen to her and never trust you again.”

“That’s why when you and Jackie came to the rehab center for Family Day, in front of all those people, after Mom and Dad said they forgave me for the third time, you said you wouldn’t have anything more to do with me until I paid you back the two hundred and fifty dollars the wedding ring cost. You said I shouldn’t bother darkening your door unless I came up with the money.”

“So you decided to take my seat on the bus instead?”

“I didn’t know it was your seat. Mom just told me which bus you ride to and from work.”

“So your last time through rehab actually worked? You haven’t had a drink in eight years?”

“After you said you didn’t want to have anything more to do with me until I paid you back for the ring, I knew I had to make it up to you, that I had to give you and Jackie a reason to trust me, for good this time.”

“So what did you do when you got out of rehab?”

“You know I’ve always been the athletic type, and you’ve always been the brains of the family. I should have listened to Mom and Dad when they told me there was more to life than football.”

“But you didn’t, did you?”

“Even before I turned nineteen, I had to drink to forget I wasn’t college football material. The fact that you were always ahead of me and passing just about everything with flying colors despite being blind didn’t help.”

“So what did you do after your third stint in rehab?”

“I figured if I couldn’t play football professionally, I could teach it. With Mom and Dad’s blessing and some financial support, I went back to college and this time, I majored in physical education. You’re looking at the P.E. teacher and football coach at our old school, Waverly High.”

I turned my head in his direction, not believing what I was hearing. “You mean that?”

“Yep, it wasn’t easy, but I’m proud to be where I am today.”

“Way to go, dude,” I said, thumping him on the back.

“Mom told me your son Chad is seven and playing soccer, and your daughter Amber is five and starting ballet. I hope to still be at Waverly High when Chad gets there. I’ll teach him a few things about football and about life.”

All I could say was “Wow.” I pinched myself and shook my head to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. “Oh, by the way, I almost forgot something,” said Jess. “Give me your hand for a second.”

To my surprise, I found him counting bills into it. “A hundred, two hundred, twenty, forty, and fifty, there you go.”

“What the…”

“You said you wouldn’t have anything more to do with me until I paid you back what I owe you for the wedding ring so here it is. Your little brother’s not a loser anymore.”

Dazed, I folded each bill separately before placing it in my wallet. “Hey Frank, here’s your corner,” the driver called, as the bus jerked to a stop.

“Come on, bro,” said Jess, grabbing my arm and pulling me to my feet. “Let’s go buy Jackie a new ring.”

I pulled my arm free and took his. “Oh sorry buddy,” said Jess. “I forgot. It’s been a long time.”

I didn’t know what to think, as he led me off the bus and down the street to a nearby jewelry store. As we stood at the display case, waiting for assistance, Jess said, “Oh wow, look at that ring. It looks just like the one you were going to give Jackie.”

“How would you know? You said you don’t remember the ring.”

“I don’t remember pawning it, but I sure remember what it looked like, almost like Mom’s ring which you gave Jackie instead. It’s too bad Jackie isn’t blind. If she were, she probably wouldn’t have known the difference.”

“You know, Jess, I may not be athletic, but I do know how to throw a punch, and if I didn’t have a wife and kids to support, I’d risk doing some jail time just to hear your body hit the floor.”

“Hey Frank, I’m sorry, really I am. I didn’t mean that. Jackie’s a good woman. You’re lucky to have her. Maybe someday, I’ll find one just like her.”

“May I help you?” said a woman’s voice.

“Yes, we’d like to see that ring there,” said Jess. My brother wants to buy it for his wife. He’s blind so he needs to feel it.”

I hated the idea that Jess and others thought they needed to speak for me because of my impairment but let it go for now. “Oh this ring would be perfect for your wife,” said the clerk, placing it in my outstretched palm. “It has a gold band and one gold stone in the center. If it doesn’t fit her, we can always re-size it.”

I was amazed when I felt the ring. “You’re right, little brother. It’s just like the other one,” I said, fighting back tears. “How much is it?”

“We have it on special for two twenty-five,” answered the clerk.

“Wow, bro, you still have twenty-five dollars to spend,” said Jess, as I paid her.

“How come Jackie doesn’t drive you to and from work?” he asked, as we walked the few blocks to my house.

“She’s got a lot to do as it is, getting the kids to and from school, soccer practice, and ballet class. Next year when Amber starts first grade and is in school all day, she’s thinking about going back to work, at least part time, if the newspaper will hire her again.”

As we strolled up the front walk, Jess said, “It looks like Mom and Dad are here. Dad’s Plymouth is parked in the driveway.”

My talking watch announced it was six o’clock. “That’s funny. I don’t remember inviting them to dinner.”

“Surprise!” I was startled by the voices that greeted us, as we walked in the front door. I shook my head.

“Happy birthday, bro!” said Jess, thumping me on the back.

It was my birthday. With all the stress I’d been having at work and Jess showing up all of a sudden, I’d forgotten about it. “Did you know about this, little brother?”

Jess only laughed.

“Who’s that with you, Daddy?” said Amber, as she approached us.

I was still holding Jess’s arm, and I felt him bend down and tousle the little girl’s hair. “Hey cutie, I’m your uncle Jess.”

“What’s he doing here?” said Jackie.

I reached into my pocket and took out the ring in its box. “Honey, I have something for you.”

“It’s your birthday, and you’re giving me a present,” said Jackie, as she took the box. I heard her open it and the rattle of tissue paper. “Oh my God, it’s my wedding ring. Where did you find it? Oh honey, happy birthday. I love you.” A moment later, I was in her arms.

***

Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

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An Encounter with a Drunk Indian

When I was a student at Rocky Mountain College and Montana State University, both located in Billings, I often traveled the 150-mile trip home to Sheridan by bus. Years later, I heard a radio interview with a writer who published a collection of poems based on her experiences traveling across the country on a bus. After hearing her read some of her poems about people she encountered on her journeys, I remembered a particular experience I had and was inspired to write the following poem which appears in this year’s issue of Serendipity Poets Journal.

Intoxicated Crow on a Trailways Bus

December, 1984, in the early afternoon,

I board a bus in Billings, Montana,

for the three-hour trip to Sheridan, Wyoming.

A college student going home for Christmas,

I sit behind and to the right of the driver.

Storm clouds gather, as the bus leaves town.

 

An hour later, he gets on at Crow Agency,

sits next to me, tells me he’s Crow.

I tell him I’m one small part Cherokee,

the truth, but he doesn’t respond.

I ask where he’s going.

He says nothing—we ride in silence.

It starts to snow.

 

In the darkness about twenty miles outside of Sheridan,

the bus is surrounded by white.

The driver, a robust black man, slows down.

Wipers slap their own rhythm against the windshield.

 

The Crow tells me he’s scared.

I ask why—he doesn’t reply.

He stands, stumbles to the back,

returns, places his long legs over my short ones.

 

The busybody behind me asks if I’m comfortable.

I tell her I’m fine—I’m almost home, anyway.

She marches to the driver,

tells him about the drunk Indian on my lap.

After glancing in our direction,

the driver pulls the bus to the side of the road,

approaches the Crow, gives his shoulders a rough shake,

carries him off the bus.

Driver and Crow disappear in the swirling white.

 

I see no buildings, no trees,

nothing to shelter one ejected from a bus.

The driver returns, mumbles,

puts the bus in gear.

Wondering, I disembark in Sheridan

to begin my Christmas vacation.

Have you ever traveled anywhere on a Trailways or Greyhound bus? Did you meet any interesting people?

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver