I joined some of my Sertoma brethren last Friday morning at Upson-Lee South Elementary. The first two days of school every year, we assist the little ones getting off the bus by making sure they know which bus they came off of and need to go back home on. We do this by placing stickers with their bus numbers on them as they get off the buses.
For a lot of these kids, this is their first experience on school buses, and you can see the varying degrees of excitement and fear mixed in together as they exit the buses. I’m sure part of that excitement and fear also has to do with starting a new school year, but it is still interesting to see.
I never had that experience growing up. When I was a youngster, the City of Decatur School System didn’t use school buses for transportation to and from school. The few buses they had were mainly used for field trips – if it was too far to walk – and for transporting the high school sports teams and band to their away games. To get to and from school, from elementary on up into high school, you either walked, rode a bicycle, or your parents drove you to school.
On the few times when I would complain about walking to school, usually on an especially cold day, my Dad always brought up his own schooling – “We walked five miles to school in the cold, the snow, and the rain, uphills both ways.” That was the standard we lived by until one summer when I was a teen, we visited his hometown of Cuthbert and found that the house he grew up in was less than a quarter-mile from the school (you could see the school from his front porch), on a flat road.
I went to two elementary schools growing up. The first one was Ponce de Leon Elementary. It was about a half mile from my house, and starting in the first grade, unless it was raining, I either walked or rode my bike to school. I mentioned field trips earlier. One of my best memories of the second grade was of the entire class walking from school into downtown Decatur (about a quarter mile) to watch Mary Poppins at the theater.
I attended Ponce de Leon in the first and second grade, and then they closed it down. The Decatur Post Office now sits where the school once was. When Ponce de Leon closed, me and my friends in the neighborhood switched to Westchester Elementary, about a mile down Scott Boulevard from our houses. Again, foot or pedal were the preferred modes of transportation.
That continued on into high school. From my neighborhood to Decatur High, I walked pretty much straight through downtown Decatur every day. Usually on the way home, if my buddies and I had any money, we would stop at the Woolworth’s store on the square for some bubble gum and baseball cards. That was when Woolworth’s had the long counter with a soda jerk who fixed us delicious malts and shakes on the days when we had been good and Momma wanted to reward us.
When I got my driver’s license, occasionally Momma would let me use her car for the day and I’d get to drive to school and back. Just before school started my senior year in 1974, I bought my first car, and I’ve been riding ever since.
Still, sometimes I miss those younger days of walking or riding bikes to school with my friends. We talked about sports, about school, about girls; about just about anything we wanted to with carefree abandonment. There was no one to monitor us or watch in a rearview mirror. It was just us, out on our own for a little bit every day. Today, when it seems that most every kid in school rides the bus to and from home, I think they may be missing out on some of the more fun times of being a kid.