By Roger Barbee
Growing up in a family of six children means that lots of talk happens when we get together as adults, and that chatter often is a reaction to a common remark by one of us that is directed to the group: "Do you remember when?"
With that question, the speaker begins to remind us how she or he recalls some long ago event. Sometimes more than one memory of the same event is shared, or after a detailed explanation of some past happening, a grown sibling will say, "I don't remember that, you sure?" Sometimes a detail or two of an event will be debated as in which uncle took us on a day trip to visit relatives, or what aunt made that great meal or how long did we live in the house on Rankin Street before moving into the mill house.
But for us, the details are not as important as what the memory represents -- the common experience, not always positive but always of benefit, shared by a mother and her children. This morning when Mickey, the male beagle, barked to announce that school children were walking to the bus stop with their dad and dog, I wondered about those youngsters and what they will recall from their walks to the school bus stop.
For three school years, as Mary Ann and I drink coffee, we have watched them walk the mile-long graveled road past our back field, then along neighbor's yards on our side to catch the school bus just down from our driveway. They make the trek accompanied by their dog Buck and a parent. Nolan, our Shenandoah Honey Hound, also watches, waiting for Buck in order to bark and carry on in dog fashion. However, Buck is too busy getting his young masters to the stop in time to notice Nolan's shenanigans.
I hope the youngsters mark in their respective memories some of those walks and that in years to come, they will share with others their experiences of walking to the bus stop. The family has two vehicles, so this walk along the road and up one short, but steep hill, is a choice, and a good one for many memories come out of the ordinary comings and goings of our lives. The convenience of a ride is forsaken except in the worst of weather.
Convenience is a great aspect of life. Having grown up with only an outhouse, my siblings and I celebrated when we moved into a mill house that had an interior bathroom. The convenience of this computer is a plus, and, if I choose, I don't even need to use the dictionary to check the spelling or meaning of a particular word. But, the easier way is not always the best way, and I fear, unlike the family who lives behind us, too many of us choose too much convenience in our lives.
By having the children walk to the bus stop, the parents are offering them an experience or experiences that they could not get in a vehicle. The only memory of experience that a ride would offer is getting to sit in the front.
However, the walk along that country lane offers innumerable memories of experience and some good exercise. It is not convenient to walk on a graveled road with a backpack, especially if it has been raining and the stones are wet. The walk also gives the children some responsibility in getting to the bus stop on time; if one or both dawdle too much, they might miss the bus. If they are not careful in the walk, a puddle may be stepped in.
Wet feet are no fun.
Whether or not they are aware of it, those siblings are building memories each morning and most afternoons. They might remember a particular morning, such as today when a good drizzle fell and the world smelled fresh and, like the school year, full of promise. I hope on some mornings they find a "treasure," maybe an especially beautiful leaf that gets placed in a book or a stone that shines in a special manner in the morning light coming over Massanutten. They might recall in years to come some antic of Buck's or how Nolan carries on at each passing.
Last school year, I was walking into the high school in the early afternoon and noticed a woman I know with her son in the car. I asked if they were okay, and the mom responded, "We're fine, but tryouts are this afternoon, and I'm taking (the son) home so he can rest."
There is no question of the intent of these parents with their son -- they wanted him to be rested for tryouts so he could do his best. But, in removing some of the pressure by taking him out of school to rest, how were they helping him prepare for games that would be played after a full school day? Would they always take him home for rest before each game?
With this type of manipulation, how would the boy ever develop the mettle necessary to play a game after a long school day? If parents make the road to adulthood too smooth and free of ruts, how will children learn to navigate a rough road or a section of graveled road with bumps?
So much of our experiences are shared, and later in life we likely will share the memory of the experience with those involved or others. As we age, we will use those experiences to help us navigate a graveled road or cross a rut or persist through a spell of nasty weather. The memory of experience also will be a comfort because we know we have persevered before, so we will again.
In years to come, when our young neighbors gather for special occasions, I hope they recall their shared experiences on the morning walk for the school bus, but mostly, I hope they appreciate the parents who refused the convenient and easy way to the bus stop.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org <