One of my fondest memories of Montclair Elementary was the eight blocks I walked one way to get there every day. Ten years later I might have ended up on a milk carton, but back then, nobody really worried too much about it because times were different. Every single day kids in that neighborhood walked to school, to ball practice and even to the Junior Food Store up on Massachusetts Avenue. There must have been something in the water because parents actually locked their kids outside after school for hours at a time and let them roam the neighborhood until well after dark. Left alone with a lot of energy and an inquisitive mind, a little boy can get in a lot of trouble and that’s exactly what I did. I played with matches, knocked on doors and then hid in the bushes and even dodged cars. I even set my pants on fire playing with sparklers at the neighbor’s house one year. I did all kinds of crazy things as a kid that my parents didn’t know about. Had they known they would have had a cow but out of sight-out of mind to them meant anything goes to me. Comparatively, that long trek to school every day was pretty tame.
I remember exactly when I started walking to school. I was in Mrs. Dehart’s third grade class and as she put it, I had tried her patience one too many times. Apparently telling her that I had other things to do was not an acceptable excuse for being late to class nor was it acceptable to use a second or third time. Mrs. Dehart was a nice lady and very pretty too, but she did not cut me any slack. It took me all of about one week to get a free pass to Mrs. McKenzie’s office …and subsequently about two minutes to swear off being tardy ever again.