We assembled in the usual room at the usual time, a couple of dozen in number and counting the minutes before we’d begin the march. Called to attention, the excited voices quieted for roll call. Barely seated and itching to leave, we waited for the tally to be completed so we could gear up and go. A name was called, quickly answered by a raised hand and a “here!” The process repeated again and again, each name followed by an affirmative answer. Of course everyone made it in that day, who’d miss the chance for adventure?
With all souls accounted for and our safety briefing done, we gathered our kit. Three sheets of large paper rolled up for transport. Check. Crayons of various colors. Check. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich in brown paper bag. Check. Permission slip. Check.
Released from our seats, we assumed classic school formation: the single file line. And there we stood, like a plane full of paratroops waiting for the green light to signal the jump through the door. Excitement, anticipation, and the general happiness that is leaving school early caused little feet to creep slowly forward as we awaited the signal to go. Unlike most field trips, we’d take no bus. This time, and only this time, we would walk.
There’s a relationship between distance and the length of the leg. The legs were all short that day, so our destination felt farther away than it actually was. In reality the school sat in the center of a large subdivision, and our objective waited on the other side of the road that defined its southern most border. To get to that road, and to what now would be a death-defying dash across it, was only as scenic as your enjoyment of deja-vu.
Having left the school grounds, our line of intrepid young adventurers headed into the collection of houses and streets. We walked single file, shadowing the curb, and passed house after similarly looking house until it felt like the background of an old cartoon that repeats itself every few frames. The teacher worked the line like a sheep dog, keeping us herded and moving in the proper direction. The fact that one car could take us all out like a row of dominoes must not have been a concern back then.
Our march ended with us (illegally) crossing the road the subdivision emptied out on to, and entering the old cemetery. Yes, a cemetery.
Every cemetery I’ve ever seen looks a whole lot like every other. Green grass, old-growth trees, stones of various natures, statuary that you’d swear moves when it’s in the corner of your eye, and the uncertainty of where it’s safe to walk. If stepping on a crack is dangerous, treading over the wrong part of a graveyard can’t be good – on account of that other thing that all cemeteries have in common.
What was unique that day, obviously, was the two-dozen kids running around with paper and crayons, carefully taking rubbings of hundred-year old headstones. What lesson plan the activity was linked to is lost to my memory, but we took our rubbings, ate our lunches, and walked back to the school the same way we came.
How the teacher justified an excursion to a graveyard is beyond me. How the entity that manages the cemetery allowed it is even more mind-boggling. But we did it then, and I wish I still had those rubbings as a souvenir of a memorable day, and my first encounter with morbid curiosity. After all, any kid worth his salt is going to start wondering about the state of what’s buried underneath that stone.
The era of exploration may be over – the maps of the old gentleman adventurer now hang covered in pins indicating “been there, done that”. No longer are wooden sailing ships filled with provisions and pushed into the depths of the Antarctic. Flags have been planted on both the North and South Poles, even the moon. The highest of mountains have been conquered, the deepest of caves explored. Not that man has stuck his finger in every nook and cranny of this planet, but it’s safe to say that if human feet haven’t touched it, the eyes of the satellites have. But, one of the greatest things about being a kid is none of that crap matters, and even a day long hike can be a grand expedition.