Nancy Roman

Walking To School With Abraham Lincoln

Way back in the day, I trudged through eight-foot snowdrifts in my nine-mile commute to school.

Okay, that was Abraham Lincoln.

But I feel almost as old while I wait in the line of traffic following the school bus.

It’s a cold day and there was a dusting of snow last night. But that doesn’t explain what I am watching.

The bus stops at every house. EVERY house. The children wait INSIDE until the bus pulls up and stops. Then mom walks the kid to the bus (SLOWLY, because it might be icy), and gives him a kiss. Mom adjusts his hat. He climbs onto the bus. Then the bus WAITS until the kid sits down and CAREFULLY pulls away. The bus driver rolls to the next house. REPEAT.

Perhaps the liberal use of CAPS reveals my mild annoyance.

I’m in no hurry to get to work. I’m rarely in a hurry for anything. What is exasperating me is that the kids walk only from their door to the bus.

This particular street has sidewalks and traffic lights. They could walk to the corner to get the bus.  Or better still, they could walk ALL THE WAY to school, which is about four blocks away.

And these kids are all fat.  Gee, I wonder why.

I don’t have kids. I never really noticed when things changed.

So back to me and Honest Abe.

The elementary school I went to was only three blocks away. So I walked. Like I think kids should do today. I was a bit of a dreamer and meanderer (but you read my blog, so you know I haven’t changed) and it took me fifteen minutes to walk what was probably a five-minute walk. But still fifteen minutes. That’s hardly arduous.

And that’s not all.

I went to a Catholic grammar school that did not have a kindergarten. So when I was five years old,  before I had a three-block walk to school, I went to kindergarten at the public school that was half a mile away. And I WALKED!

My mother didn’t walk with me. I walked with my cousin Arthur. He was also FIVE.

Can you picture us?  Two five-year-olds, walking every day.

My walk to school in 1956-57.

You may notice on this map that most of the walk was along Route 69. While not exactly the highway, we weren’t walking along country roads either.  These were city streets.  With traffic.

Arthur had an older brother at that school. He was already at school when we went to our half-day afternoon kindergarten. But he walked home with us. It’s nice to have someone older to be responsible. Johnny was in first grade. He was SIX.

One day in early January, Arthur and Johnny arrived home without me. When our mothers asked where I was, they weren’t quite sure. They’d lost track of me. Mom was panic-stricken. She ran up those streets looking for me, without success.  An hour later I showed up. For a change of pace, I had taken Race Street and Valley Street home, and lots of people had discarded their Christmas trees by the side of the road. They all had wonderful tinsel, and I couldn’t resist stopping at every tree to collect the shiny strands.

My mother was terrified that day. But only for one day, because the next day I walked to school again. The only thing that changed were the strict instructions to stay with my cousins and come straight home.

As natural as it seemed back then, I have to admit that I cannot picture it today. My little niece Naomi is five years old. She’s also in kindergarten. I would NEVER let her walk a half mile to school. She’s just a baby for God’s sake.


  1. I remember taking the public bus to school with a 10 minute walk at each each with my little brother when we were 9 and 11. Nowadays if kids that young got on the bus everyone would demand to know where their parents had got to!


    • True.. and from what I hear, you need special written permission to allow someone else to pick up your kid off the bus. The bus driver will not hand over a kid to someone not a parent.


  2. bigsheepcommunications

    If kids walked to school today, their parents would have them microchipped, follow them in the car, and monitor their whereabouts on GPS. Progress sucks.


  3. When I was a kid, the bus not only started up well before kids took their seats, there weren’t actually seats for everyone. Law stated that up to 12 children could be standing in the aisles before the bus was considered overcrowded. Kids these days…


  4. pharphelonus

    I think the bus is protection for parents against predators. Truly. And that’s a plus. But in Virginia, the rule is that if the bus can’t get everyone after snow, then school is closed. We had a big storm several years back and school was closed for SIXTEEN days.


  5. No, kids are not spoiled these days…~snorts milk through her nose~


  6. Sadly, it truly was (or at least seemed to be) a different world when we walked to school in the 50’s. And even when my own kids walked to school in the 70’s. Today all the children in my apartment complex wait together on the sidewalk to catch the bus. Three or four parents always wait with them. If I had a kindergartner, I’d probably be standing out there with them myself. I don’t know if the world is really so much more dangerous than it used to be, or if we just have a heightened sense of anxiety due to the media coverage of every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world.


  7. I was lucky. the bus stop was half a block but there were kids who walked a good half mile to pick it up. The funny part is that the bus went near their house so they could have set up another bus stop but they didn’t. The worst was when it was really cold and the bus was delayed. That’s why we wore WINTER CLOTHES! I don’t know if anyone notices but the clothes kids wear for school today don’t look so warm to me.


    • My cousin reminded me of wearing snow-pants under our dresses (because we had to wear a dress to school in those days). How I hated those snow-pants. They were not only ugly, they were hard to get on. I always ended up with my dress tucked into them in the back. Such a cute look.


  8. Diane

    I didn’t walk to school, but I did wait with a ‘gang’ of kids, about 15 from the entire street. But I can imagine walking and all the wonderful ideas that can be thought during that time. When would kids today get any wonderful ideas? Maybe on the toilet?


  9. Okay, first of all, the bus stopping at every house is HEINOUS. They stop at what seems like every block around here, and it makes me want to shout things my mother wouldn’t approve of.

    I know what you mean, though. I used to ride my bike to school when I was 7, and if I had kids, I’m not sure I would go for that! Although…my 8-year-old nephew just ran a 5k by himself – and he hadn’t turned 8 yet!


  10. I love this post. In fact, I love ALL your posts. I can identify with so much of what you have to say. Write on, sister!


  11. I looked at your lovely map and am very happy for you that you didn’t have to walk through the West Cemetery! Now that would have been an awful start to an education…
    I lived in the country when I was little and walked to the one-room school that held six grades; i guess in city terms the walk would have been about two blocks, but it was in a straight line and I could pretty much see the school from the end of our driveway. Beginning in grade seven, though, I took a bus to a bigger school…still walked to the one-room school first because that’s where the bus picked us up–even though the driver often passed us on the road she wouldn’t stop–we had to run the rest of the way or she would leave us in the dust! Good times!


  12. My grandchildren (8 & 4) take the school bus at the corner some 3 doors down. In this day and age I can’t imagine them crossing the road because it’s quite busy where we live. We have no stop lights. There are crossing guards but not necessarily enough of them. It would take about 40 minutes and I’m all for the fresh air and exercise but I can’t imagine they having to do that in the city.
    I walked 15 minutes in the 50s but there was no traffic to speak of. The town was small and everyone looked out for everybody’s children. It’s such a different world today.

    Loved your post.


  13. Susan Ritchie

    Being the younger cousin of Nancy, and sister to John and Arther – things didn’t change much 5 years later – except the boys didn’t take kindly to walking their 5 year old sister home from school by that time (I guess they were much “cooler” by that time). They would would been the ones to take another route, and leave me on my own. I guess my Mom learned her lesson with you – – I always had to walk up the street to where Daddy worked (right behind the school), and wait in the car so he could bring me home. No worries about me straying off on my own (which I would have done, also) – or the boys leaving me!


    • You know, Sue, I never thought of it that way. Perhaps your brothers didn’t lose track of me… they DITCHED me!


  14. RVingGirl

    We walked to school every day unless there was a huge snowstorm. Note: school was not closed for regular huge snowstorms; our dad drove us. School only closed for major blizzards! I can always remember the first day when we were able to walk to school with no snow boots. We felt so light and fairly skipped all the way. FREEDOM!


  15. I think you touched a chord with this one. In fact, I was just noticing this morning that there were two bus stops within spitting distance of each other, in an area that was open, completely visible and where there is almost no traffic.

    Kids these days are also not just sent outside to play. Instead they get video games and computers and TVs. And as a parent, you are considered irresponsible if you let your children go outside unsupervised.

    What have we done to ourselves?


  16. When my Tink was 5 she was supposed to go to a school that was 2 hours away by bus ride. I petitioned and received permission for her to go to the elementary school I could see out my back window. When my neighbor, who had 3 kids, asked why I was so overprotective I told her it was because I only had 1 kid and it was too tough to start all over.

    But now she’s 13 and she rides a bus that does NOT stop at every house, But truth be told in good weather she very well could walk home. I am in awe every day of the differences in expectations of kids today versus our day. This post was very timely to me!


  17. great post. i too walked to school – through the woods, by myself, uphill both ways, in the snow. we have no snow, flat land, no woods, and my kids still take the bus. kinda crazy.


  18. Like this post – brings back my own memories. . .also – please make sure you saw my “Thank you” post from yesterday. You are mentioned. . .


  19. I had to smile when I read your description of each bus stop. In our neighborhood, the kids are at each corner, so that’s not too bad. BUT if there’s a parent there waiting with them, the parent has to walk over the the bus and have an extended conversation with the bus driver! What’s up with that?


  20. We can’t walk anywhere around here – no sidewalks or shoulders and everything is pretty spread out. The last place we lived, in New Jersey, had sidewalks and no school bus service. I miss that.


  21. Great post! I love how you tied everything together. That district must have a lot more money that ours; we don’t have enough bus drivers to stop at every street, much less every house.


  22. I’m surprised the bus driver doesn’t drive directly up to the door, and some apparatus lifts the kid up from the couch and puts him in the seat. Give it 5 years.


  23. As a teacher, I know that many days the bus returned to the school, still full of kids, because there was no one to meet a child at the bus!!!


  24. I’ m sure on cold days I grumbled but looking back now I can only remember the joy of the long walk to and from the bus stop. My friends and I got to really know each other on these walks. Thanks for reminding me of these simpler days.


  25. They should totally walk to school. Lazy little damners. 🙂


  26. millodello

    We now have the internet and ‘social networking’ to teach our children the facts of life. They don’t need to walk to school with the older kids to get an education anymore. Further how many families had more than one or even just one car in the sixties? Walking was done to work as well as school.


  27. You are so right — so much has changed, and not all of it for the better. I take some comfort in knowing that my children and grandchildren can’t possibly imagine the world the way it was when I was growing up, so they can’t possibly know what they missed. I didn’t know it at the time, but I believe my childhood in the 50’s and early 60’s was probably the best time to grow up ever. We were so fortunate.

    I laughed out loud at your deviating from your route. I also walked to school from kindergarten to 6th grade — it was about 6 blocks and there were always kids to walk with. Imagine how casual school safety was back then — on my first day of first grade, when the whole school went to the playground after lunch for a little exercise before going back to class, I thought I was supposed to go home (as I had after half-day kindergarten), so I walked home. Apparently no one saw me leaving! Mama took me back and I don’t remember her or the school being too excited about the fact I had “escaped”. Safer, simpler times.


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