As a kid from Aldine Street in the 1940s and 50s, I considered my mother a smotherer. In retrospect, she was certainly not.
My sister Janet relates a story of her first day in kindergarten at Maple Avenue School. On that morning, our mother dutifully walked her the eight blocks down Aldine and across Lyons to Clinton Place, to Maple, and down a few more blocks to the school. She dropped off Janet at school, with my sister expecting to hear that Mom would be waiting outside for her at the end of the day. But no. Mom explained to her daughter that the walk back was easy — major intersections were supervised by police and schoolchildren who served as crossing guards — and she’d meet her at home.
My sister, of course, had no idea how to get home and she got lost. She was located eventually and never got lost en route to, or back, from school again. I probably had a similar experience, but it could never have happened to my suburban children, who walked alone only as far as the end of our driveway.
What different lives we lived. On reflection, mine was better; independence was always a part of my life and those of my fearless peers on the streets of Weequahic. Since most of our mothers didn’t drive and our fathers were rarely home, we had to get around on our own. We did so by bicycle, bus, and with our own two feet. I was in a taxi as a child following my tonsillectomy. The ride to the doctor was by bus.
I found my way to the kids on my block by myself around age 4; once we started kindergarten we had the whole neighborhood to explore. We never considered this independence. It was just normal, and no one ever accosted me or any of my friends.
Bicycles emerged when I was around 8 years old, and everyone zoomed with impunity along the sidewalks on their Schwinns. Around the same age riding buses — without adult supervision — became a necessity. For example, my piano teacher lived several miles away on Watson Avenue, so I had to walk to Lyons Avenue and take the 8 Lyons bus, debarking at Watson and walking down the hill to the studio. No one questioned the wisdom of this. There were always people on the bus I knew, which I presume provided an extra level of security, but we never thought of it in that way.
My horizons further expanded when I started wearing braces. My uncle was an orthodontist in Queens and no one else was allowed to straighten my teeth. Like my sister before me, my mother accompanied me on the first trip to Queens, and from then on, I was on my own. I would walk to the bus stop for the 107, which took me to the Port Authority in Manhattan, and from there it was a subway ride and then a walk to Uncle Charlie’s office. There were no instructions to “call when you get there”; it was a long-distance call from Queens to Newark. Who would be so extravagant?
At age 17 I finally got a driver’s license and a car, a battered, hand-me-down Buick from my father. Buses lost their appeal. Bicycles got rusty. Feet became mere appendages.
Here in Israel, my memories of transportation in Newark don’t seem all that unusual. The kids here are fiercely independent, sometimes alarmingly so as they shoot down the sidewalks in their electric bikes scattering old cronies like me into frantic escape mode. I’ve actually seen children boarding buses alone with pacifiers in their mouths!
But we live in the suburbs in Israel and New Jersey, and so we need a car to get around. It’s not for the best, it’s just the way it is. In fact, we only take buses when we are abroad.
Buses, it seems, have become exotic tools of travel.
Rosanne Skopp is a frequent blogger for the Times of Israel. She lives in West Orange and Herzliya, Israel.