It was the fall of 1960. Buses were still taking elementary students to school in the Sacramento Unified School District. Something happened part way through Kindergarten and the buses went away. I don’t know the reason, budget cuts probably. But I do remember the day when my parents announced that I was going to walk to school the next Monday. A big event was planned for the weekend. We were going to make a trial run all the way to Bowling Green Elementary School and back. It was a whole mile each way. (Can’t imagine lining up my kindergartners 30 years later to make the same walk. But then, it was a different time back then.) Dad and Mom led the way to school, but it was my job to get us back home. Success! Mission accomplished. But there was still a nagging worry that I wouldn’t remember what it looked like to walk the other way come Monday morning.
Most of the families who lived at the corner of Planet and Nova Parkways moved in about the same time to this brand new South Sacramento suburb. Mostly boys with a smattering of girls. (Grandmas used to say back then when there were more boys than girls around that God was raising up the next army.) The boys on the street were close friends. We spent most of our free time playing army with silhouetted rifles cut out of 1x4s, painted black, or playing baseball of the diamond we’d set up on the intersection in front of my house. This morning, Monday, we gathered for another reason. There was to be no bus for the first time and we were walking to school.
Lunch boxes were distributed (don’t drop it, you’ll break your thermos), directives were given in quiet tense voices (go straight to school, come straight home, don’t talk to strangers, stay on the sidewalk). Hugs were applied and kisses planted (and immediately wiped off). We walked together down the street like soon to be victors heading off for the day’s battle. Moms and Dads lined up on the sidewalk waving goodbye with hearts full of all kinds of second thoughts. Down to the end of Planet, hang a left for a short half block on North Parkway, and then right on Sky Parkway to the end. To the bridge. The bridge over Morrison Creek and to the field that stretched beyond.
It was only a residential drainage ditch but it held wonders for us. It was an imagination’s dream. What would Morrison Creek bring today? Would there be raccoons still working their way back to dens, jack rabbits running in the field (later during summer days we’d go hunting in the field with our bows and arrows), or maybe even a body floating on the still green water (we could only hope!). Every day we’d turn sideways to squeeze ourselves between the metal posts that kept motorized vehicles off the bridge and then run to the middle of the bridge, pushing our anxious faces into the chain link, eyes, nose and mouth lined up between the wires, first on one side and then the other. “What do you see? Anything?” We were usually disappointed to find nothing more exciting than tadpoles and minnows swimming in brackish water. Sooner or later one of the guys would hear his mom’s voice in his head, “go straight to school,” and he’d call us forward to the end of the bridge and down into field and the valley we had to cross every day.
An asphalt path had been laid through the field. It came down the hill from the bridge with a right hand turn that took us along the north side of the field where other roadways fed more students onto the path. There were always distractions. We ritually connected each morning with friends merging onto the journey and, depending upon the time of the year, worked our way around puddles (or to at least make an attempt to ford them with pieces of busted lumber and stones thrown into the water to create a bridge of our own). The field would eventually hold a new subdivision, but for now it was an obstacle of glorious distractions that had to be crossed.
“One mile uphill, both ways, even in the snow” said parents who tried to wow us with their school walks, as if that was going to give us confidence for our journey. We knew our journey was the toughest, way more dangerous than that of our parents. Our valley was undeveloped, dusty, a home for critters, full of unknowns, and glorious! What we didn’t see we could imagine. But even after crossing the valley we had a mountain to climb – every day. It was certainly lost on us how many life lessons were being taught in the valley between Morrison Creek and the walk bridge over Highway 99. We were being prepared by living and playing with life; every day, every step, crossing bridges, valleys, and mountains – some days easier, some days harder than others – just like when we’d grow up.
There was a creative litany about it all. The introduction of life’s rhythm to boys and girls who would grow up to live and walk in real valleys. And so, each morning began with the familiar chorus of parent voices and admonitions, children sojourners doing what they did every day, friends coming and going on the journey, doing life, discovering it together. All of it before 8:15 in the morning. It was familiar, good, and holy.