I don’t know what came over me. A fifth or sixth grader, I was surely old enough to know better. The other kids were doing it. It didn’t look dangerous. If I went slowly, surely I, too, could walk the six and one half blocks home from school – backwards.
The “backwards” incident came to mind as I was waiting at a stop sign. My timing for running errands – the post office, library, grocers route – coincided with school letting out. I realized my error just as I approached the stop and saw a sea of bright faces with backpacks, their feet shuffling along and crunching away on the leafy sidewalks. The sound of Autumn leaves underfoot still brings back the first months of the school year to me. It’s like smelling a new box of crayons.
I was old enough to not have to walk in the patrol line. Patrol lines consisted of a patrol boy in front and another in back of a long line of children, two abreast, the youngest holding hands, who were led to school and back each day. Girls were not considered as patrol line leaders. A topic for another time. Graduates of the patrol line, my schoolmates and I were chatting and giggling and the world seemed so young then with the sun shining through the trees, barren of leaves, the excitement of a new school year ahead.
I was also thinking about my walking doll, which I told you about here. The doll only rolled forward, and that was enough of a challenge for me. Why would I try going backwards remains a childhood mystery to me.
We were less than a block from school, walking and talking as schoolgirls do, giggling when, whack! There I was. Flat on my back, my books scattered about the leaves, my skirt bunched up over my knees, my Tonette perm in chaos. I still remember looking up from the pavement and what seemed like the entire school population gazing down at me.
“Quick”, someone yelled, “get the patrol boys to help”, and someone did. The older boys came running and I’m sure, very sure, that I displayed my first maiden blush. I couldn’t move, my back ached and there they were. The big guys on campus. Still my heart, Lord, I prayed. I remember feeling safe as two of them made a seat with their hands and gently lifted me up, my arms around each of their necks, my heart in a swoon, so much for maidenly prayers, as they carried me back to the principal’s office.
My mother was telephoned, the party line cleared for an emergency. My aunt commandeered with her car. Panic, I’m sure, at such news at home.
I was put promptly to bed. The doctor called. Bayer aspirin was administered with orders to take it easy and no gym or recess for a week. Since I excelled at neither, this was good news for me. I would read a book instead, my embarrassment hidden in its pages. Toast squares and tea came in on a tray – just as the soreness crept in. Oh, how I remember that soreness.
They were my heroes, these two boys, whose names escape me, but, whose chivalry lives on. One of them winked at me in a happily ever after sort of way when he saw me in the hallway a few days later. I grinned a Cheshire sort of grin, I’m sure, and considered myself lucky when I didn’t trip over my saddle shoes as he was going by.
It’s funny the memories that flood back while sitting at a stop sign as school lets out. I wonder if children stop and help each other today with such organization. If boys and girls know to make a seat by joining their hands. I wonder if my long ago friends and my two knights in armor ever think of the awkward girl with the bright red sweater and curly Tonette all amok in a pile of books atop leaves.
I sure hope not.
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