Walking Back In Time

Three young students walking to school.
Photo by Judy Macoskey. 2019.

One of the most heartening things about moving back to Mt. Lebanon after living elsewhere is finding that kids here still walk to school. No buses clogging the streets, just neighborhood schools that are (theoretically) within walking distance. Moms often seem to be making the trip with their offspring these days. This is something my mother would have scoffed at, but we live in different times now.

I walked to school as a child in the ’60s—first to Washington, then Mellon, then the high school. This included going home for lunch in grade school—something that sounds quaint and old-fashioned, but I guess kids still do it. I walked home at lunchtime almost every day, except for the exciting ones where my mother helped out in the cafeteria at Washington, slapping together unappetizing baloney-on-white-bread sandwiches along with some other PTA moms.

My route to and from Washington School took me through a shortcut next to the T (then trolley) trestle over Castle Shannon Boulevard. The cut-through is now fenced off, but then it was a wooded lot and a handy way to skirt the longer route up Castle Shannon around to the front of the school. My sister and I walked parallel to the tracks, which we had been sternly warned against venturing onto, and up onto Cornell, then through Central Square to the school playground. The idea of grade schoolers being allowed to wander alone through an empty lot next to railroad tracks seems ludicrous now, but as I say, those were different times.

My other sister even remembers crossing the forbidden trestle with her best friend after being dared by some boys in their class. The big fear was that you’d slip and fall between the ties as you were crossing—if a trolley didn’t come along and force you to jump before that happened. Fortunately they made it across safely and never told my mother.

We took much the same route to Mellon, but the high school added a sizable portion to my walk. Those were the days before backpacks were common, and although my mother urged me to use a tote bag, I refused and lugged a teetering stack of books, notebooks, and folders back and forth every day. Now that I’m at an age when walking up one hill makes me pant, I look back in amazement that I tramped all that way every day, uphill and downhill, carrying a staggering extra burden.

My cousins who grew up on Crystal Drive STILL complain about their walk back and forth to the high school and how strenuous it was.

I should mention that my walks to school were overseen from kindergarten through 12th grade by a dour lady at the corner of Castle Shannon and Shady Drive East whose name was something like Mrs. Dilgent. Rain or shine, there she stood in her uniform, admonishing us against horsing around or stepping off the curb before she gave the signal. She’s probably long gone to her reward, but I would like to say thank you, Mrs. Dilgent, for your, yes, diligent service and constant care for my safety. You took your post seriously and, looking back into my childhood, I appreciate it.