• James Eichenlaub

The Walk, Up Hill, Both Ways

How many of us from the '50s and before, recall the 'walk' to school on those days when no human being should be walking anywhere? Girls, required to wear skirts, walking in 5° weather, many without boots or adequate protective clothing. Many others would not wear certain items because of the harassment they would receive for doing so. It just wasn't cool!

Now, during this age, our grandson 'drives' to school every day in a relatively new and very sexy Ford six-man pickup truck, whereas we walked to school, wind and rain, hot or cold, knee-deep in the snow, or whatever the situation; Many from Juniata and farther out, all the way to Keith or Roosevelt, or Altoona High.

Personally, I lived on 16th Street and 14th Avenue. In fact, the house I lived in still sits there as though I'd never left (big white house next to the empty lot). I'm certain it recalls all those many days I skipped school because I was not going to carry my lazy butt through the snow or blowing rain just to listen to Miss Learn or Miss Rhoads in Keith, or to Altoona High to see Mr. Butlers' scowling face as I passed the office or to endure the dreaded gym class, or Craigo's machine shops.

One particular Thursday morning, after a heavy snowfall (similar to the attached picture) and the plows were not yet run, I made it all the way to the 17th Street bridge, and as I crossed the street toward the Venitian Gardens, I stepped directly into a puddle of slush that filled both shoes with ice water. If I returned home, I would be accused of stepping into the puddle on purpose as an excuse to return, so I continued on.

When I arrived at the high school and made it to homeroom, I removed my soggy socks and threw them into the trash, and sat at my desk with bare feet, trying to warm them. When class changed, I slipped the wet shoes onto my bare feet to walk to the next class where I again kicked them off. By the third period, when I pulled my feet up under my legs for warmth, Mr. Sell spotted me and asked where my socks were. "Go to the office." I tried to explain. "Go to the office; you're violating the dress-code!" he continued.

To the office, I went, where the scowling Mr. Butler waited to reprimand yet another erring student, especially one of my ilk. Skipping the useless conversation, suffice it to say that I was "sent home" to put on socks, and if my shoes were wet, I needed to learn to wear boots. After the thirty-minute or so walk home, I sat on the sofa with my feet wrapped in a blanket and watched television for the remainder of the day, snacking and drinking hot cocoa.

That evening, again it snowed and on Friday I began the day with Matt Dillon, or should I say 'Marshall Dillon', and spent the remainder of Friday snacking, enjoying the warmth of our home, and watching all of my friends on WFBG and WJAC television.

11th Avenue Altoona, Pennsylvania, Holiday Season c1965

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