Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Sense of Direction

I’m often accused of having a good sense of direction.  I usually have a feeling for which way North is.  I can usually find my way anywhere I’ve been before and sometimes even to places I’ve never been.  Here are a few stories about this.

************************


Murlin Heights Elementary

When I started school in Vandalia, in 1956, the town was growing quickly.  There were so many new homes going in, and we were in the early wave of the “Baby Boomer” kids, so Vandalia didn’t have enough schools for all of us.  They were building a new school, Stonequarry Elementary, that I was scheduled to go to (at the southeast corner of Dogleg and Stonequarry Roads, it's now a church), but it wasn’t ready when the year began.

So I began school at Murlin Heights Elementary, but was only there for a few days. Then we were sent to Vandalia Elementary (VE) where our class was seated in the gym, with about three other classes.  The “classrooms” were divided by curtains hanging from ropes stretched across the gym.

Vandalia Elementary
We attended “VE” for a good while, not sure how long, but I remember that the first day we went to Stonequarry the weather was a bit cool.

I remember, very clearly, another thing about our first day at Stonequarry.  The School Bus picked us up that morning as usual and took us to VE where the students who attended that school were to get off, while those who were to go on to Stonequarry remained on the bus.  But for some reason, the driver decided that I and other boy, I think his name was Richard, were confused about where we were supposed to go.

We told him we were now at Stonequarry, but he insisted that we were VE students and had to get off the bus.  So there stood two six-year-olds, outside a school which wasn’t theirs, where none of their classmates, teachers or friends were, watching the bus drive off.  Richard started crying.  I don’t remember feeling scared.  I knew where I was, I knew where I lived and I knew how to get there.  I told Richard, “I’m going to get my Dad!” (At that time Dad worked the evening shift.)
 
Stonequarry Elementary
So off I went.  I had started walking towards my house before the bus was out of sight.  Our house on Spartan Avenue was more than a mile from VE and on the other side of US 40, at that time one of the Nation’s major east-west highways.  I think I knew the route partly because Dad worked evenings and, as we only had one car, we would sometimes walk from our house over to the library, which was then near the corner of Nelson & Dixie (Nelson is now called Kenbrook), very near VE.

It probably took me about a half-hour to get home.  My Dad’s sister, Aunt Norma, lived on Donora Drive, very near us, and I had to pass her house to get home.  She noticed me walking past and, realizing that I should have been in school, called out to me, “Tommy, where are you going?”

“To get my Dad!” I responded.

Well, Mom and Dad were a bit surprised to see me!  I explained what had happened and Dad drove me back over to VE.  We found Richard in the office, still crying (why we didn’t think of just going into the office initially I don’t know – we were six).  Dad took both of us to Stonequarry and explained the situation to our teacher, Miss Cole.

One last memory of this event – Dad often told this story and he would say that I had “walked a mile and three tents.”  I couldn’t remember seeing any tents while I was walking home.  Sometimes when we would drive along the route I’d walked I looked for those tents.  Eventually of course, it dawned on me that he was saying a mile and three tenths.

************************

One summer when I was 19 or 20 I drove with Mom and some of my younger siblings up to Boston for vacation.  Driving home it was getting late and I was pretty tired, having driven most of the way.  By this time we were just north of Columbus, maybe an hour and a half or two hours from home, but I was just getting too sleepy to continue.

I woke Mom up and told her that I was going to pull over and sleep for a while.  She said that she felt fine and would drive the rest of the way.  I climbed into the backseat and soon fell asleep.

At this time, the Interstate Highway system was not complete and to get on the Interstate from Columbus to Vandalia required several miles of traversing city streets.

In the backseat I felt the car turn and was suddenly wide awake.  I sat up and said, “We’re going the wrong way.”

Mom explained that no, we had just gotten to US 40 and we’d be home soon.  Just at that moment the headlights illuminated a sign very like this one.




************************

In May of 1994 I visited my friend Mark in London.  Mark grew up in London and enjoyed showing off his city to me.

Late one afternoon he said to me, “There’s something  I want to show you over in the Docklands part of East London, down by the Thames.”

So we jump in his car and head from Hammersmith, west of London, towards the Docklands.  Now, we were traveling generally east, and since it was late afternoon the sun was right behind us.  We drove along, talking and laughing.  As Van Morrison says in Coney Island, “The Craic was good.”

Mark was driving, of course, but as we drove along I noticed that the sun was gradually moving from more of less directly behind us to coming in the windows on the left side of the car.  We were going north.

Now, I knew that we were north of the Thames when we started and that the Docklands were near the river, so it seemed to me that we were not getting any nearer to our destination, but it was Mark’s city and I assumed he knew where he was going.

But after driving another little while, Mark said, “I thought we’d be there by now.”

I told him that I didn’t think we were getting any closer to the Thames.  He was surprised and wanted to know why I thought that.  When I explained my reasoning he couldn’t believe it, “I’ve lived here all my life and never used the sun to help me find out where I’m going.”

"But Mark," I said, "we were north of the Thames when we started and we're going north now.  We can't possibly be getting any closer to the River."

We never did get to the Docklands and he wouldn’t tell me what he had wanted to show me.

************************

In 1993 Mom and Dad visited California.  Accompanied by Bill we spent about a week driving around the state from Truckee where Bill and I were living then, down the coast to San Diego and back up through Bishop and Mammoth returning to Truckee.

We visited several friends and relatives along the way and we had been on the road several days when Mom mentioned that we hadn’t looked at a map the entire trip.  Then it became a challenge to complete the trip without using a map.

Over the years my career as a Forest Ranger had taken me to many nooks and crannies of California over the years -- going to fires in different places -- so I was pretty familiar with the road systems and the general “lay of the land” and we were able to do it.

3 comments:

  1. great story
    Larry South

    ReplyDelete
  2. Your "3 tents" reminded me of when I was little. My mom would say, "there's a draft in here," and I would look behind the chair for a giraffe.
    Kimberly King

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wonderful stories...When I statred we went to Demmitt ele..you remember that school?
    Cathy Coehick Short-Papp

    ReplyDelete