The story they told about my father, when he was in elementary school is that he used to read a book while riding home from school. They lived on a farm. I don’t know exactly how far away the school was from their house, but I think it was about a mile. They used to ride horses to school. The school had a barn where their horses were kept and fed during the day and then they would ride them home. My father’s horse was a gentle animal who knew the routine and so didn’t require input from the rider. At the end of a school day, my dad would climb up on the horse and the animal knew exactly where to go. Dad would read a book as he rode along and soon they’d be at their home barn, where there were chores to be done before dinner. On at least one occasion, my father was reading when the horse walked under a tree. Dad didn’t see the tree branches coming because he was reading. The branches brushed him right off the back of the horse. The horse wouldn’t stop walking because it was headed home. Dad had to walk the rest of the way home because he couldn’t catch his ride. I don’t know if this was a single occasion, or if it happened multiple times, but I heard the story from my dad, from my grandma, from my aunt and from at least one of my uncles, all who told it with great relish.
I thought it might be fun to have a story like that tell my kids and grandkids, but I don’t have any story of particular note about the adventures of going to and from school. We lived exactly one block from the school. That part of our town was laid out in a grid, 16 blocks to the mile, and we didn’t have 16 blocks from our house in any direction before you ran out of town. That meant that each block was a bit over 300 feet long. It was 150 feet to the alley and another 150 feet to the school. We were more likely to have the wind at our back going to school and in our faces coming home. Even if it was snowing, the trip wasn’t much of an adventure. We usually ran to and from school.
For a couple of years, we became obsessed with a kickball game that we played like baseball. The pitcher rolled the kickball towards the batter, who kicked it as hard as possible and then ran the bases while the defense ran to get the ball and tried to throw the runner out. Like baseball, if the kick was caught, it was an out. The number of players determined the size of each team, so some days, there were a lot of outfielders and advancing all the way around the bases was a challenge. Dodgeball was banned from our playground before school and during recess because some of the older kids got a bit rough with the game, but they continued to make the kickball game seem a lot like dodgeball for us smaller players.
I’ve been looking for stories about school to tell to our grandchildren in part because they don’t have school to go to at the moment. The pandemic means that they are doing their classes at home. We try to help out with the teaching one day a week, but most of the time it is their mother who arranges the classes, checks the workbooks, gives the spelling tests, listens to the reading, and plans the day. Until the pandemic eases and Washington returns to in-person learning in public schools, the kids don’t go anywhere to go to school. The classroom is the same room where they eat their meals. Their desks are their usual places at the same table where they have their breakfast. Fortunately for our grandchildren, they live on a farm. There are outdoor chores every day. There is firewood to be fetched and brought in from the woodshed. There are chickens to be fed and watered. There are acres of pasture for running off a bit of steam. But for this school year there are no cub scouts, no group games at recess, no after school sports, no bus rides and no walking to and from school.
It looks like our grandson won’t have any stories to tell his grandchildren about having to walk two miles to school uphill into the wind in a blizzard. And so far their mother won’t let me buy them a horse, but that is a different story.
We didn’t have a horse when I was a kid, either, but we did have a donkey. Most years we had several donkeys. We didn’t get to take our donkeys to school, except on special days when our dad brought a colt to the school yard for the other kids to see. I think that our donkey, however, had some connection with the horse my dad had when he was a kid. At least she went wherever she wanted to go and totally ignored any input from me. If I was told to hold her lead, I would do so, but she went wherever she wanted and ate whatever she wanted regardless of how hard I pulled on the lead. On the occasions when I got to ride her, she usually simply stood still until I got bored and got off. If she did go anywhere, it certainly wasn’t in the direction I wanted to go and not at the pace I thought she could carry me. It was way easer and a lot faster to simply walk than to ride the donkey. It wouldn’t be hard to let go of the lead and read a book while sitting on her back, and if you did fall off and had to walk home, you wouldn’t have far to go.
Despite the hardships of school during the pandemic, I have no intention of getting a donkey for our grandchildren to ride. Maybe I’ll try to find a good kickball.