I was listening today to the music of Benny Carter, one of my all-time favorites (and someone I’ve written about before). The long-time bandleader and sax legend was also a first-class composer, and the song I was enjoying was one he wrote many years ago — “A Walkin’ Thing.” It’s a piece that appropriately begins with a simple ‘walking bass’ but then continues to build as other musicians join in. Before long you find yourself not only enjoying the music but also mentally strolling along at a determined pace, imagining a virtual trek into mysterious places.
In my case, listening to it also meant that my mind was wandering through memories of eventful walks in my past. We’ve all had experiences that might include long or memorable walks, but even though the one I most remember might seem insignificant now, it was monumental at the time because I was barely six years old.
Shortly after I started first grade we moved from our rural home to a house in a nearby small city, so I had to transfer to a new school. We lived about a mile away from it and most kids in the area walked it every day. That was the plan for me too, but on my first day my mother drove me there to show me the route, which included a couple of turns. She also stopped along the way and talked to some of the older kids, introducing me and explaining how I’d be walking with them from then on. In short, she did everything right — but she didn’t anticipate the actions of a hard-headed little boy.
The next morning I started off on my journey, and soon joined up with other kids walking toward the school. Everything went well for most of the trip, but as we came to the last intersection near the school I inexplicably decided that I should turn right, even though all the other kids were turning left. Some of them noticed what I was doing and tried to talk me out of it, but I stubbornly stuck to my guns and headed directly away from the school, which was only a couple of blocks away at that point. In the years since, I’ve often wondered why I seemed to be so determined to ignore them, but I don’t have a clue.
I began to trudge along the road, which – like many of the streets in that area – was without sidewalks, so cars were whizzing by as I walked. I remember that I grew more nervous as time passed but it never occurred to me to turn around and go back. Finally the residential surroundings began to change to commercial, and I found myself at an intersection with a busy state highway, and I knew I was lost.
For no particular reason, I turned right again and began walking along the side of the highway as it led back into the city on a diagonal route. It was very busy, with cars continuously streaming by and the occasional big truck threatening to blow me off the side of the road. As I walked, I passed everything from gas stations to honky-tonks, but I don’t remember even considering asking someone for directions. I just kept marching along.
After what seemed like hours, the area began changing and becoming a little more residential again and I spotted a familiar house. I was sure that it was where my aunt lived, and I dragged my weary self up the steps and knocked on the door. No answer.
I was about done for by then, but next door was a small grocery that I’d been in several times, and that’s where I headed next. I’m sure the owner was puzzled when I first came in the door but he quickly figured out the situation, gave me a comic book to look at, and called my mother.
I began crying for the first time when she ran into the store. Like most kids, I probably figured I was in trouble, but I was also REALLY happy to see her. It turned out that even though I had walked for several miles I had ended up just a few blocks from home.
I never got lost on the way to school again — but have remained stubborn for my entire life.