Speak Memory

Do you ever wonder how you came to enjoy peanut butter on hard-boiled eggs? Or why you like bicycling or wearing red? I do. Following that train of thought, I’ve found glimmers of how ordinary experiences have molded who I am today. 

… I looked back and saw myself walking to school… It’s the 1950s, and I live in a small town.  Every day I walk to my elementary school in the morning, to-and-from school at lunch time, and home again in the afternoon.  It’s perhaps a mile each way.  Until I am in third grade, and every “First Day of School,” my sister and I are accompanied by our mother.

We walk beneath mature oaks and chestnuts that arch over the narrow streets stitched together by wooden houses with large porches and carefully tended lawns.  Cars pass at a leisurely pace bearing men to their factory jobs or offices. Pick-up trucks rattled past carrying produce for the farmers’ market or supplies for local construction sites.

The boys are in blue jeans and corduroy jackets. We girls wear skirts and dresses to school; we are not allowed to wear pants.  In the winter, to keep warm some of us slip on flannel-lined corduroy pants under our skirts and over our goloshes.  During the day, those pants hang in my locker until I don them for my walk home.  We don’t use backpacks; I carry in the crook of my arm, my notebooks and homework and a spiffy pencil case (carefully selected each September.) When I get older – probably sixth grade or so, I also carry a very cool purse of pink plastic which contains a cotton hanky (handkerchief to my mom) and a mirror.  (I’m not allowed to wear make-up until ninth grade.)

I realize now that our walks to school were part of our social upbringing.  Each day we see the same people – the housewives sweeping their porches, the elderly men walking their dogs, the same red sedan with the four men heading for the auto plant.  In addition, as the months pass, our walk becomes a bit of a parade.  We live at the outer reaches of our school’s catchment, so as we walk the blocks to school, my sister and I are joined by other boys and girls heading to school too.  Some girls are dragging their younger siblings along, some boys are tuning up for their daily tease-fest.  Moms wave at us from their porches; dads honk as they head off to their own work.  By the time we arrive at the school yard, we are perhaps seven or eight children of varying ages – giggling and whispering.  We are a small clan of neighbors and friends.

Walking that mile four times a day – morning and afternoon, and at lunchtime round-trip, gave us time to play in a very unstructured way. Our bodies were exercised; we learned to chat and interact in a more-or-less civilized manner; we looked after one another, and quarreled with one another, and made-up after our quarrels.

I came to love walking. I  still do.  While my morning and afternoon walks were social events, our lunch-time walks were quiet; not many children walked home for lunch. So my group walks were balanced against my more introspective noon strolls. (Talking to my little-sister hardly seemed worth the effort most days.)

During those midday turns, I watched the ever-changing adornment of the trees. I listened to the birds – robins and song sparrows, blue jays and crows.  I noted the growth, bloom and decay of the petunias, geraniums and mums in the flower beds along my way. I thought. The tragedies of the hatchling fallen from its nest, the squirrel too slow to escape the dog’s jaws, the ambulance at the house of the old couple in the next block – I observed and absorbed the ebb and flow of daily life.  I looked forward to the break from the intensity of my school day, though I loved school and continued to entwine my life with “school” for another 40 years.

In Proust‘s meditation on memory, In Search of Lost Time, he observes, “The true paradises are paradises we have lost.”

Of course, my memory of walking to school is idealized. I am sure my sister can remind me of times I complained about having to come home for lunch or having to walk in the rain or wear my least-favorite mittens to school.  But, in my memory, those walks are the stuff of joy and balance in my life.  Now that I am semi-retired, I walk  three miles every morning, as did my father before me (only he walked far more than three miles a day.)  My love of birding, my joy in the simple tasks of gardening, and my delight in friendships – both casual and deep; all these gifts come to me, in part, from those years of walking to school.

I still remember one song we sang each morning as we stood behind our desks:

♪♫  Tramp, tramp, tramp, go the feet of many children
From the mountains, rivers and shores,   ♪ ♪
Who with smiling faces take their school room places
With their friends and neighbors once more…   ♪♫♫ ♫

What a great way to start the day – a walk and a song!


About J. F. Booth

I am a writer and educator.
This entry was posted in Life Lessons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to Speak Memory

  1. Anonymous says:

    How I remember this song. At 81 now, it was in the 1949-51 era we sang it often
    Oakton School, District 65, Evanston, Illinois. Thanks for filling in several missing

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was looking for the song I remember from my school days, I typed in the first line and your blog came up. What fun! I was quite to pleased that others new the song and appreciate Art W.’s coming up with those last two lines. Thank you so much!

  3. Sue Romanowicz Birren says:

    Every once in while that song pops into my head and I tried to find it with no luck until your post. I didn’t live in a small town, but our memories are the same. I lived in the same Milwaukee neighborhood my maternal great-grandparents settled in and went to the same public school as my mother and her siblings. I even had the same teachers because they were just starting out in the 1930’s so by the time I hit school in 1956 they were pretty seasoned. Back then teachers had individual lifetime contracts in the public school system, it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that teacher’s unions were fully incorporated there. Like you I walked to elementary school, but onlyy 2 blocks and home for lunch with the occasional treat staying for “hot” lunch once a month or so. If
    it was raining or too cold, Mom might pack a bag lunch and give me 3 cents for a milk, that way I wouldn’t have to walk home. My best memory of those walks were the snowbanks left by the plows along the streets, would walk along the tops and try not to touch any sidewalks until we got to the crossing guard! Within a few days we had a nice trail along the top all over the neighborhood! In my head I frequently sing our school song, written by a long time teacher. The school was renamed for a congressman and not the street it is on, but the song in my head hasn’t changed. I am grateful to know that we all walked and sang together across this whole land!

    • J. F. Booth says:

      Such charming memories to share. I hope our children and grandchildren will have their own fond memories of school and of this difficult year away from school – not just the frustration and heartache.

  4. SandraJo Rabideaux says:

    Does anyone remember a Thanksgiving song from grade school in the 50s, about a turkey? I only remember these words: He eats all the food we bring, yellow corn and everything.
    He must think he is a king, fat Mr. Turkey.

  5. SandraJo Rabideaux says:

    Yesterday, 12/21/20, I heard the word ‘tramp’ on tv, and it recalled a memory for me. A song from grade school: “Tramp, tramp, tramp. All night, it went through my head until I remembered the words and tune. It went:
    Tramp, tramp, tramp, hear the feet of many children
    from the mountains, rivers and shore
    Who, with smiling faces, take their schoolroom places
    with their friends and neighbors once more.
    Tramp, tramp, tramp, hear the feet of many children,
    thirty million ready today,
    We work together, we learn together, in the good American way

    I have been trying to remember most of the songs we sang back then. I’m 76 now and will include this song in my list.

  6. Judy says:

    Enjoyed reading this so much. Your experience is identical to mine ( in central Ohio )

  7. Anonymous says:

    I remember Tramp, Tramp, Tramp very well. We used to sing it at PS5, Queens, in Astoria, NY. I attended that school in the mid 1950’s.

    Tramp tramp tramp go the feet of many children from the mountains, river, and shore
    Whose smiling faces take their school room places with their friends and neighbors once more
    Tramp, tramp, tramp hear the feet of many children, thirty million ready today
    To work together and learn together the good American way.

    We sang it as we actually marched into the auditorium for our weekly Wednesday assembly. We were accompanied by Mrs. Markowitz on piano.

    For some reason, I was thinking about this today (I’m 67 years old)…funny.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wow, I remember singing this too while filing into my classroom in the late fifties. What they had us do for “patriotism.”

  8. Anonymous says:

    Janice, you described my walks to school perfectly. There are so many memories. I found this site because I was looking for the second verse of “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp”. It, along with others, runs through my 61 year old mind frequently. Those were some very happy years for me. Thank you for putting it into words.

  9. Judith K. says:

    I remember all the words and the tune to Tramp, Tramp, Tramp. . .

  10. As a music teacher to young children, I appreciated this post. I would like someone who remembers the melody of Tramp, Tramp, Tramp to agree to sing it in a little audio recording so it could be transcribed for others to use in school. It’s something that would be a shame to lose. Right now, it seems there’s no transcription or recording available on line. Maybe in a library collection somewhere.Would anyone agree to do the recording? I could help you do it on your home computer, and it doesn’t have to be Grammy-award quality.

    • Paul-
      I’ll sing it for you — I remember most of the tune.

    • Betsy Stewart says:

      Wow, I remember singing this too while filing into my classroom in the late fifties. What they had us do for “patriotism.”

    • Anonymous says:

      I would like to see it preserved, too. It is etched in my memory from elementary school in the 50s. I originally thought it to be a very patriotic march. However, having grown up during the Cold War (and also the Viet Nam war) I began thinking this is very regimented and very military style that make me reminisce about the marches of the Hitler/Mousilini films we watched for history class–later other military states, especially USSR, N. Korea, and China. Does anyone know its history. I DO remember the tune, but I could not recall all of the words. Since Anonymous posted the words in his comment of 2/2015, it all came back. However I am not a good singer and would likely make a mess of trying to record it so that someone else could actually figure out the music. Nonetheless, I believe it is an easy tune.

  11. Ross Burkhardt says:

    I remember singing “Tramp Tramp Tramp” in 4th or 5th grade in the late forties and early fifties — each week the music teacher would come into our Central Valley Elementary classroom (in the Hudson Valley), and at the beginning of the school year we’d sing this song. We sang it more than once, and perhaps more than just one year, because we looked forward to singing it. I recall my twin brother and our friends Paul and Ronnie and I singing loudly at our desks as we deliciously anticipated the repeated line, “Tramp Tramp Tramp” because we got to stamp our feet in rhythm as loudly as we could.

    The song, in retrospect, was rank indoctrination. But I went on to become a teach anyway.

  12. Nan Motolinsky says:

    I found your blog, as I was looking for a reference for the same childhood song. I’m about to join friends in New Jersey for our 50th high school reunion, and we also walked to and from school, and home for lunch. It was a time of growing independence, and social learning. I appreciate the freedom we had, to roller skate all over town (with the ever-lost skate key hanging from a string around our necks), disappear all day until dinner time, explore and visit and come and go without constantly arranged classes and being driven everywhere. I think I remember all the words:
    Tramp, tramp, tramp, hear the feet of many children, from the mountains, rivers and shore.
    Who with smiling faces, take their schoolroom places,
    With their friends and neighbors, once more.
    Tramp, tramp, tramp, hear the feet of many children,
    Thirty million ready today,
    Who work together, and learn together, the good American way.
    Well, that got me wondering when this song was written, and in what circumstances.
    Amusing what sticks in our memories!

  13. Ann Kennedy says:

    Whether in Michigan, or Quebec, those walks you describe bring similar memories rushing back! What an unexpected treat to remember those days! How alike are our experiences, including the distance, and the walks back and forth at lunchtime! This was elementary school, and to be able to walk alone that distance in the country would never be considered safe today! What a loss for today’s children!

  14. Janet Brown says:

    Jan, I agree with some of your fans. It is time for a sequel. Just reread your story and again got the warm-fuzzy. Love your memories of times gone by. How about a story of your wonderful big white front porch where your dad held court after dinner?

    • J. F. Booth says:

      Ah, Mom and Dad’s great pleasure – a summer’s afternoon spent talking and laughing on the screened-in, front porch. Good suggestion. Thank you for your words of encouragement.

  15. Russ says:

    Funny I was thinking back trying to remember little things that made our childhood pretty great…someone created a group about our small town and all the members chip in old memories and pictures …..this brings all different age groups back to their small town even though so many have moved away over the years….question the song we used to sing also….Tramp Tramp Tramp…..do you know who wrote it and also all the lyrics? Thank you …..by the way my older sister and I used to walk together ….she was my protector

    • J. F. Booth says:

      I remember a song from my school days, in the early-1950s. As I recall, we stood behind our desks and sang with abandon. What a simple, happy memory that is – perhaps 1st or 2nd grade. I’ve looked for the complete lyrics and tune on-line, but no luck. What I remember goes:
      “Tramp, tramp, tramp
      Go the feet of many children
      From the mountain, river, and shore.

      Who with smiling faces
      Take their school room places
      With their friends and neighbors
      Once more… ”

      And that is it for my recall.
      Thanks for jogging that memory.

      • Art W. says:

        The song – as I sang it – was
        Tramp, tramp, tramp, hear the feet of many children
        From the mountains, rivers and shores
        Who with smiling faces take their schoolroom places
        With their friends and neighbors once more
        Tramp, tramp, tramp, hear the feet of many children
        Thirty million ready today
        We work together and learn together the good old American way

  16. Helen Johnson says:

    Nice to know I wasn’t the only one walking – unfortunately mine was 4-5 miles one way, those months that I took the money which was for school bus tickets and did something more exciting with it like buy a neck scarf (popular back then) – 25 were not enough. It was during desegregation in DC and if they had to assign you to a school in West Virginia, they would have done that (it felt like it was in WV)

  17. debrabook says:

    I love the serene & joyful reflection of your childhood memories, many of which I share. It inspires me to reminisce my own youth. Thank you for sharing, it’s whetted my appetite for more. The sequel is when?

  18. Anonymous says:

    Your reminiscence certainly reminded me of the mile-long walk to Angell School 20 years earlier. Did I come home for lunch? I can’t seem to remember, but probably I did. Did my older sister walk with me? Yes, but then she went off to junior high school, and I made the walk alone. I do remember, fresh home from time with my grandparents in a Mississippi summer, where we went barefoot, deciding to go barefoot to school in midwestern Ann Arbor, Michigan. I believe I was about seven. Such consternation as I was met with! By whom? I don’t know, but I remember my terrible shame to this day, when I have forgotten positive things.

  19. Walks to school were a mixed bag for me. In winter, with record snowfall and poorly-shoveled walkways defining at least 50% of the journey to my tiny Catholic grade school, my memories are more about deliberate distractions and the daydreams I had – of a warm car, a cup of hot cocoa and a loving hug from mommy!

  20. Janet Brown says:

    Loved it, Janice. And was reminded of my own walks to school and back and enjoying the changing seasons in Michigan. Especially Fall. Walking through the leaves, kicking them down the sidewalk and the crunch, crunch, and enjoying the look and smell of burning leaves on the curb side (no longer allowed in Michigan).

  21. Molly W. says:

    Thank you for reminding me of my own walk to school, cutting through neighbors’ yards through the trees up up uphill!

  22. Anonymous says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post. It gave me a moment to stop and think about the things in my life that have been long forgotten.
    Thank you for sharing your memories of a time that I wish I could have experienced. Through your post I was able to envision how it would have been if I was born and raised in that era.

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