How Did We Survive All That Exercise?

by Harry T. Roman


Remember when you walked to and from school 4 times every day-once in the morning and then home for lunch; and then back in the afternoon and home again at 3:00 or so?

After school you ran around your neighborhood until you dropped. I cannot recall anyone in my neighborhood ever dieing from too much exercise. What has become of all that youthful exercise today?

In gym class you ran around some more. When you got to school in the morning and again when you got there after lunch you played all sorts of physical games. Every inch of that playground was used for active games. I never remember just sitting around and talking in the playground, like I see many kids doing today. Where did all those physical schoolyard games go? What ever happened to kickball, punch ball, buck-buck, tag, 3 flys up, jump rope, and all those jungle gyms and such?

Our legs were the chief means of transportation, and they got plenty of exercise.

"Look at the legs on that Santini kid!"

"Yeah, those calves are the size of my thighs."

"That comes from walking to school in the snow, 2 miles, uphill both ways."

Too bad all those hills got worn away. Kids don't seem to get any rigorous daily exercise now.

It didn’t matter if it was snowing or raining, you walked to school. You put those monster buckled or zippered boots on, along with your rain slicker and away you went, books in a plastic bag and umbrella in hand. When you arrived at school and if it was cold outside and the radiators were hot, you dried your clothes on them-otherwise you just hung them in the cloakroom and settled down to business.

Today you stay at school all day once you get there, probably because Mom works now and no one is home at lunchtime. That's too bad, once for the missed love and hugs at lunchtime and again for the delicious hot lunch Mom made on those cold days—hot soup and a sandwich, and maybe a cup of hot cocoa. I can taste it now. You ate lunch and off you went again to walk back to school. More exercise.

No one complained, or sued the school system. All the arguments today about the streets not being safe were non-existent. The bad guys were not on the streets. It was called “jail” back then, and it meant being locked up. There was no stuff about one more final last chance to straighten out or some other lame excuse. They got exercise too, like real work. And sometimes they got sent to the Army, with lots and lots of exercise.

Many kids arrive now by bus (clogging the streets at rush hour—don’t you just love that).

The Newark schools were actually situated to allow neighborhood children to be able to reach them by foot in a reasonable length of time. The only bus delivery I can remember at Abington Avenue School was for the kids living in Stephen Crane Village, which was a considerable distance away. And if my memory serves me correct, they used bus tickets (remember them!?) for the #30 bus that ran down 6th Street.

No one drove anyone around in our neighborhood during the day. There were no extra cars in families. Dad took the family car to work every morning and rare was it that Mom would have her own car to go driving around during the day, even if she was one of the few women who had a driver's license.

Mom walked to local stores like you walked to school, or the park, or the library, or anywhere else. If it was that far, you took a bus. You also walked to church on Sunday, to the bakery, to pick up the paper, or to the barbershop.

When you lived in a city like Newark, things really weren't all that far away--not like the suburban areas of today where you need to take a bus a good number of miles to get to a regional high school. We walked every day through Branch Brook Park to Barringer High and then home again. I would estimate maybe a mile each way.

To go to the local library branch we walked down to Clifton Avenue along Bloomfield Avenue starting from the water tower at 6th Street and 1st Avenue. Back then the library was on the second floor of a building by the old Howard Savings Bank just a few feet in from Bloomfield Avenue.

As a boy I would spend the whole day in the park running around and then come home for dinner and be out again to run around until dusk. Don't kids have legs anymore?

I don’t remember anyone being on a diet, or trying to lose weight, except if they were sick and the doctor told them to drink more things like malted milkshakes and stuff. Your daily exercise-filled routine automatically kept the excess pounds off.

It seems somewhere along the scale of evolution, minivans were invented to move kids between places. I guess their legs must have fallen off because of non-use.


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