The Expedition

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The Expedition

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.

November 26th, 2011|Categories: Life & Times|8 Comments


  1. bmj2k December 1, 2011 at 10:26 PM - Reply

    What an amzing memory of an amazing trip! You need to do more of this! And you summed it up so well at the end.

    My first teaching job was at an expeditionary learning school and I proposed a trip to historic Greenwood Cemetery in NYC but I was not only voted down but put down as well. I wish more people not only thought but lived out of the box.

    • Jim December 3, 2011 at 9:14 PM - Reply

      Thanks, Barry! I wish I could remember more of the details – like what we were supposed to be learning, and exactly what grade I was in at the time.

      I don’t know what it says about me, but field trips later on to the Institute of Arts, and Science Center didn’t leave the same impression on me as that trip to the graveyard. Not that I didn’t enjoy them, but I don’t remember them all that well.

      Put down for suggesting a trip to an historic place? After reading about your teaching days I’m not surprised. A loss for the kids to be sure.

      • Skinner December 5, 2011 at 1:38 PM - Reply

        How did I not realize your blog had moved? I’m falling down on the job.

        Anyhow, fun post – these days I have to sign six sheets just to allow Mr Eight off to a local farm, and, even then, they essentially tell us “we’re not responsible if your child is eaten by a goat.”

        I wonder if the cemetery’s caretakers were even informed? There seemed to be a lot more “public” property even just a few decades ago.

        You wouldn’t find any PB&J sandwiches these days either, as fear of peanut allergies has gripped North America.

        • Jim December 5, 2011 at 8:59 PM - Reply

          It was a recent move, and poorly publicized. (The marketing department is run by a recluse.)

          You’re right, it may have been a bit more public back then. It’s run these days by a “private, non-profit association”.

          No PB&J at school? I would’ve starved back then! I wonder if that allergy is as widespread as the precautions for it are?

          • JRD December 13, 2011 at 10:18 AM

            I’ve been doing some poking around to figure out where exactly the Peanut Panic began, but I can’t seem to find a specific source. I assumed there would be a court case somewhere, but I’ve been unable to turn up anything.

          • Jim December 14, 2011 at 8:50 PM

            Interesting. It seems like it came out of nowhere and was then affecting tons of kids (probably the same time the epipen came out!).

    • Skinner December 5, 2011 at 1:22 PM - Reply

      But you were certified! Bastards.

      • bmj2k December 11, 2011 at 12:09 PM - Reply

        Hmm. I wonder if my cemetery certificate is tranferrable.

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