Growing up in Louisa – Walking?
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
The forgotten art of walking is something that we have left behind almost without notice. I’m not talking about just going for a stroll, but I’m talking about walking with the intention of traveling to some point without the aid of a vehicle. It was common during my time in the old home town because in part the community was only about a mile long and at best, half that wide. There were very few places that was outside of reasonable walking distance. This was a ‘normal’ way to get someplace. Of course, some adults used their cars, if they had one, but that wasn’t the way for many kids and adults. As a kid, I usually had a bike, but when it had a flat or if I had to carry something, we just hit the pavement. I remember times that a number of us boys would walk to the ballfield, or somewhere, all talking and enjoying the company.
We used sidewalks wherever they were available, but otherwise we walked the streets or on the train tracks. This habit of hoofing it encouraged good health by burning unnecessary calories and giving us opportunities to think, dream, or otherwise pass the time. The benefits of walking are well documented, as a method to cool off, avoid or get over frustration, or to work out solutions to a difficult problem.
Anyway, since bikes and cars tend to break down and involved an expense, we often had little choice but to walk. As for me and my friends, much of the time during those school years we were without a driver’s license. Even if we had one, we had no ‘wheels’ to use. When I was an older teen, I loved to ‘double-date’ with a friend who borrowed their ‘dads’ car, but that didn’t always work either. Even when we had a car we didn’t want to use up that expensive $.25 a gallon gasoline. Speaking of that, I remember when we would sit on the curb at the filling station to see who would buy gas that day, and how much. Those rare “fill ‘er up” commands made by a driver gave us the perception that family must be rich.
Another reason we enjoyed walking was that we stood a good chance of seeing friends along the route. Sometimes we’d even take a route that was most likely to bump into certain parties. We could then hear the latest news, or enjoy greeting an acquaintance. Yes, as a youth, I remember walking and kicking a can, or a rock, ahead of me, while I relaxed. This was a time that gave me a chance to relax while accomplishing a purpose. My family took the frequent trips to the grocery store, post office, or the ballfield by walking and we walked to school, to church, and to the homes of family friends.
The world as we knew it has changed so much that parents are loath to allow a child to walk alone. We read every day of kidnappings and murders, and we are often in fear of our children being randomly assaulted. In the forties and fifties, we never thought twice about walking to most any place in town, day or night. The people we passed were friendly, and were known to us. The adults in the town watched over each other and would step out if it looked as if we were endangered. We never considered that we were at risk.
The point is that this idea of walking is a foreign idea to younger people, today. Perhaps with good reason. Things are a good deal more spread out and the dangers of walking make it unattractive. People today drive everywhere. We go further without thought, and faster than we need. Doing that may avoid all kinds of risks and certainly give more choices of destinations. Today, our goals aren’t to see people that we know on the street, but rather to get to where we’re going. We gain and lose something by driving. There may be safety, but the benefits I’ve already outlined are lost. We fit more things into our lives, but it is impersonal and shallow. We rush, rush, and rush.
I thought of this subject to write about when I recently attended a national conference in the Washington, D.C. area. While I was attending I found that I had to hike from the ballroom to a breakout session meeting held somewhere that seemed to be on another planet. Seriously, the amount of walking in those places makes me wonder why they don’t have people movers like some airports. It could take ten or fifteen minutes to move from one class to another.
Today, there are a few who walk, or even jog, through the neighborhoods, but those amount to a small percentage of the population and are thought of as health freaks. I’m thinking they are more health aware than the rest of us. Some are tying on a pedometer and hitting the sidewalks, but with entirely different goals. In the larger cities, they use the parks and back roads are used by those from more rural areas. New mothers and sometimes, fathers, walk of run while pushing a stroller, or a baby buggy. They do this to stay fit, or as an excuse to ‘unwind’ and get away from the busy hustle and bustle of life. I watch some people jogging or walking, and talking on their cell phone, but at least they are exercising their bodies.
In today’s world, neighbors barely know each other and mistrust or resent intrusions. I suspect that because of this we have become a lonely people in a crowed world. I’m not one to preach against change, understand. I have been a catalyst for change for most of my life, but for selective change. Getting to a hospital faster makes sense. Traveling from place to place safer and quicker is a good thing. Turning our lifestyles into non-caring people by reason that life is a blur, is not a good thing. Can we take what was good about the past and what’s good about the future, and marry those somehow? Cities and towns are building communities within communities these days with their own parks, housing and storefronts.
I remember the little town where the grade school bell was rung and I had to run to be there before Quincy had rung it a second time. I also remember the evening hymns and chimes broadcast from the church roof downtown. Having a local theater and plenty of friendly places to grab a soft drink, or milkshake was wonderful. Seeing friends and relatives on the streets and catching up on the news at the barber shop, or the beauty shop, was just plain fun and was important to us during that day. This atmosphere of community also lent itself to a caring public. Neighbors would help neighbors, and all was right with the world. Small-town life was good.