On the edge of my town, Lewiston, there are no sidewalks. We walk the streets where cars drive slowly and give us room. But as I head toward the village center, I’ve discovered a short span of sidewalk that still remains by houses with front porches and tall trees – so much like it was when I was a little girl. I head for that place every time I walk and somehow become young again, just for a while.
My first remembered sidewalk is the five blocks where every day I went to school and back home. I walked with friends, made friends, quarreled and made up. In sunshine, rain or snow, I breathed fresh air. No fumes from yellow buses.
There was a mom-and-pop grocery store on one corner, where if you went in you could see the owner actually slice bologna on the meat counter. And a drugstore farther down where penny candy could lure us in to spend half an hour choosing from the stocked shelves. Somewhere in the middle was a bar, then called a beer garden. I’d skirt it carefully, awed by its dark interior and the faint smell of cigarette smoke hitting my nose.
It was on that sidewalk we chanted the old warning: “Step on a crack and break your mother’s back.” And, being very young, I wasn’t sure if it might actually be true. Careful as I was, I couldn’t miss all the cracks, and once or twice I’d hurry home, relieved to find my mother unharmed.
But most remembered is the sidewalk in front of my old brick home where we played. Sometimes it was hopscotch, rolling the stones and hopping the spaces for hours. I’ve since forgotten exactly how the game went, but I still remember those big squares, drawn in pink chalk with numbers in the middle that we traversed with much dexterity and precision.
I jumped rope down that sidewalk. Back and forth, counting the jumps, trying to make 10, 20, 40, even 100 if I practiced and concentrated very hard. A hundred was a triumph!
Roller skating was a challenge because of the bumps and the tilt of the uneven blocks of cement. But after I’d strapped on the skates to my shoes and used the key to tighten them, the fun was in the struggle to keep upright and in the cadence of the rollers as they hit each crack and made a click-clacking sound that was almost a song.
When I was very little, I took my red wagon to a place on the sidewalk where I made believe it was a real hill. I’d climb in the wagon at the top for the short ride down, my doll in my lap, and again the wheels made the familiar click-clack sound.
Author Shel Silverstein wrote a children’s book titled “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” And I think about that title as I walk along in my adult reverie today. Have sidewalks, especially their games, gone the way of so much of the past? Hide and seek on lighted streets in twilight. Rope and tire swings tied to tall trees. Kickball on streets with little traffic. I never see jump ropes or hopscotch patterns anywhere. Do children play outside much anymore? Anywhere?
Perhaps we will have to take a strip of sidewalk and put it in the Smithsonian, near Archie Bunker’s chair and the Wright Brothers’ plane. Mark it with pink chalk and park a red wagon and roller skates nearby. And then visit it with nostalgia for the days when a little girl and a jump rope could make a whole afternoon of fun.