Stubborn. Insulted. Stinky. All this is understated what I felt when my parents told me that after our move to the new house and my transition to the new school, I would have to manage the new road getting to school on my own. Twenty minutes on foot. In all weather conditions. At a time when Mom and Dad still laying blissfully asleep in their feathers.
Over the years I have optimized the way to school. Found the best shortcuts through the neighborhood. Through the middle of a garden. Passing a shed, a narrow corridor along garages. My schoolmate, who I picked up every morning, found other shortcuts. At some point, we managed in less than ten minutes.
I’m looking forward to showing those paths to my son soon, he has to follow the exact same path starting next September.
I didn’t have a bike back then. When there was no snow, I put on my roller skates and the sneakers dangled from the satchel. Stupid enough that one day there was a lot of gravel on a particularly steep stretch. I stumbled, waved my arms. Tried to hit the brake. Which I only succeeded by falling. The scars from the hundreds of sharp stones, which the doctor later removed, can still be seen on my knees today.
In our much too rich country, the children are driven to school today in fat SUV`s. Hundreds of mothers woo with their oversized carts for the best spots in front of the school. Unfortunately, very few people have their big cars under control. Occupying two, three or more parking spaces at a time. Or block traffic for minutes when reversing.
Two years ago, in summer, my “monsieur” had bought cheese. Who knows a Frenchman knows: that`s a great event. Even at 95 °F degrees in the shade. It’s just that the whole car smelled funny. The even dumber thing was that the smell could not be banished by excessive ventilation or the use of miracle trees. My son and I had no choice. We had to go to school in a sky-smelling calash.
Suddenly a traffic control took place – exceptionally and much too rarely happened in my eyes. The policemen wanted to know whether the kids in the SUV were strapped in an appropriate manner. I got stopped, lowered the window. The uniformed man opened his eyes. Stepped back a step and turned green in the face. I apologized blaming the cheese bought by my “Frenchman”. The cop grinned crookedly. My son was strapped correctly, though a little pale around the nose.
Many, many weeks later the stench evaporated. One day my husband opened a flap between the dashboard and the gear lever that we didn’t even know existed. In it, he found the rotten corpse of a mouse. Trapped in the flap. Which we deliberately never opened. So we had not driven a marauding cheese through the landscape, but an animal carcass.
But – we could drive. Take our kids to school. This is not a matter of course everywhere in the world. Some eight-year-olds paddle three or more hours through a river populated by crocodiles to learn ABC. On this planet live children who cross unsafe bridges to get to school. They all want to learn. And that’s a good thing.
I had it really comfortable with the few minutes of walking. At that time I was pissed off at my parents, who didn’t give me a car for my 18th birthday, but a comfortable rattan chair with a matching table in return for the piano I hated in my room. Many classmates roared to grammar school in their own wagons when they reached the age of majority. All I had left was the roller skates. And my new cuddle corner.
That’s where I found Charles Bukowski. John Fante. Ernest Hemingway. My school friends’ cars have long since been scrapped. I still have my Hemingway. And I’m looking forward to giving it to one of my three children one day. Because with that they have a way, an offer, to get along with this life. It doesn’t take a bike. Not an overpowered luxury car. In the end, it’s your own path that counts. And it begins in the heart.
Your Silke Porath