On The Way Home

When I was a kid growing up in Wheeling, the downtown streets were filled with people each and every day. As a member of the baby boomer generation, I can attest that the population did indeed boom.

The classrooms at my elementary school were filled, so much so in my first grade class, that two classrooms were needed to accommodate more than 70 students entering that grade. There were at least four sets of twins in the class as well.

After school we often walked home together with our friends and no one counted the miles or steps we took. Sometimes when we were older we were allowed to ride our bicycles to school. We didn’t need to lock them up, just park them in the rack on the playground.

If we were lucky enough to have a quarter or two among us, we stopped at Colonel’s for a wizard, a slushy concoction of ice and sweet flavoring served in a pointed paper cup. Vanilla was my favorite.

Often you could find us staring into the window next door at Jake’s toy store or perhaps buying some penny candy, filling a small paper bag with red shoelace licorice or colorful candy hats. My sister, K.C., preferred the caramel creams.

Our walk home took us through the pig path, a popular place for kids to hang out or just take as a shortcut through Edgewood. The older boys and girls might be bold enough to hold hands or steal a kiss while walking the secluded path.

Even alone, I wasn’t afraid to walk through the path, just not after dark when you might encounter a stray deer or mischievous teen. Stranger danger was not something we spent a lot of time talking about back then because everyone knew everybody who lived or worked in their neighborhoods. A stranger was easy to pick out.

We never looked at walking as exercise, more simply it was just a way to get somewhere when your family only had one car. I don’t see many children walking home from school these days. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

Bicycles are still around some school yards but they are chained to the buildings and probably have GPS systems. I’ve seen children in kindergarten sporting cell phones and fancy gadgets that require no reading skills, just the ability to push a button. And we thought we were high tech when Dad brought out the electric carving knife or had an electric garage door installed.

The library was the most popular place in town when a term paper or book report was due. The people who worked there were most helpful in my achieving passing grades in high school. They also had electric typewriters that made the work much easier than the old manual machine we had at home.

Kids today just don’t know what they are missing until they’ve worn out their school shoes walking home from school or Scouts or football practice. I know – no one says “school shoes” anymore. Too bad.

Heather Ziegler can be reached at ziegler@theintelligencer.net.