Josna Rege

39. Two at a Time

In 1970s, Britain, Inter/Transnational, Stories, United States on April 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm

As a dashing youth in his late teens or early twenties, my brother-in-law Dan once said, “I run up the stairs two at a time now, so that when I get older I can slow down to the normal one at a time.”

My mother always walked extremely fast, and was half a block ahead of us all whenever we went out together. She had an administrative job, but she made sure that it was not a sedentary one. Her office was on the fifth floor and her boss’s office on the ground level, so, rather than taking the elevators, she made a point of racing up and down five flights of stairs several times a day. It was certainly the road less traveled, for she was the only one of her co-workers who consistently took that route. At Mass Mental Health Center, each floor housed a different department or ward, some of them locked down, so taking the stairs meant passing through different worlds, worlds that were unknown to those who confined themselves to the elevator.

stairwell, MMHC © 2003 by Anna Schuleit

One lovely Spring Sunday when I was nineteen and studying in London, I set out for a walk in the park, but once at Primrose Hill I decided to continue on to visit my Uncle Len, Auntie Angy and Cousin Lesley in Edgware, a suburb of North London a few miles away, and to go on foot rather than taking the Tube as I usually did. I walked up the Edgware Road, passing through neighborhood after neighborhood, High Street after High Street, each with its corner pub, butcher, baker, newsagent and sweet shop, fish-’n-chip shop, launderette, and, more often than not, second corner pub, each with its locals going about their Sunday business. When I got to Edgware, I realized that I hadn’t rung in advance and that they’d be in the middle of their Sunday dinner; and besides, I wanted to keep on walking. From the Edgware Road I turned west and struck out on the London Road, which became successively the Uxbridge Road, the Broadway, Pinner Road, and Rickmansworth Road, as I walked past all the stations that I normally whizzed by on the train; until, just before nightfall, some five hours and 23 miles after I had left my flat in Camden Town, I turned up at my Uncle Ted’s door in Rickmansworth. And he was out!

The next-door neighbor inched the door ajar and eyed me suspiciously, and when I said that I had walked out from London to see my uncle, she was so alarmed that she nearly shut the door in my face. Finally, with extreme reluctance, she allowed me to step into her front hall and ring Mick Marsden, my Uncle’s friend and commuting buddy, who took me to his house, where his wife Sue served me a welcome bowl of hot soup; for I had set out in the morning with no money and had not had so much as a drink of water all day.

I think of Dan’s two-at-a-timing, and my mother’s stair-racing, and my own impromptu marathon every time I am poised to press the elevator button rather than taking the stairs up to my third-floor office at work. Last I checked, Dan was taking the stairs at a decent clip, one at a time. And nowadays, when I go out walking with Mum—now that, at 82, she has slowed down a bit—we can finally walk side-by-side.

 

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  1. It is interesting to me how several of your stories involve walking in cities and through neighborhoods which nowadays you would probably not recommend anyone, particularly a young girl, to walk through by herself. The world of these stories has apparently vanished and changed to become almost unrecognizable.
    I was made aware since a very young age that I lived in a wonderful, safe world with many adults around who would look after me, and yet I realized that in some ways it was a unique and almost unreal world compared with the wider world around us.

    I remember running and playing through the village and climbing the sides of streams and looking for adventures through many woods and fields around our village where there were seldom fences or walls and children ran freely picking up pinecones or catching butterflies and the only thing that finaly brought us home was a hungry stomach!
    I wonder where my grandchildren will play and run and whether they will know any of that sort of
    freedom?

    • My goodness, yes, Marianne. It sounds as if your experiences were very much like mine. In Kharagpur I used to wander in the wilds beyond the campus, and of course, all over the campus itself. Like you I was out all day on my bike, alone or with a friend, only coming home for the evening meal. And I know this was before I was 7. In Greece age 8, I was out wandering in the woods across from our house, often alone, in a wild ravine we called “The Canyon.” And in the summer holidays in Greece when we rented a cottage near the seaside, I remember following a dog on a walk one hot afternoon when everyone else must have been napping. It took me all over the place, across a main road–looking left and right before crossing–into some kind of quarry where it nosed about for interesting finds, and so did I; and eventually, back home. Or, on that same holiday, losing myself in a mazelike field of sunflowers that all towered above my head…bliss.

      While I was living in London the year I was in college there, I walked through the city at all hours of the day and night with impunity, completely unafraid. One night I particularly remember coming home from Kentish Town to Camden Town–past midnight, it must have been–stopped at at a late-night fish-‘n-chip shop to pick up a big bundle of hot, soggy chips wrapped in paper, with lots of salt and malt vinegar, and then walked home eating them. Unforgettable!

      xxx Jo

  2. I do think Mom (and Jojo)that the times have changed. I dont really remember walking much, I do remember biking all around Bellingham with dad, and also riding to the donut shop with friends. But as far as Lily, Gigi, and J go, I doubt I will be (knowingly) allowing them the freedom to roam that was obviously a joy you two were allowed. (you were up at 1 am posting a on a blog? you night owls! 😉

    • I agree, Jenn. I also think that, rightly or wrongly, I was more anxious and (over)protective toward Nikhil than my parents were toward me. And now the tables have turned and you’re being protective toward us! That’s what I wrote to Marianne–that it was way past her bedtime (although, to be fair, it was three hours earlier for her). xxx Jo

  3. Glorious! I enjoyed reading Two at A Time! I spent my lunch hour wandering around Washington and you expressed my sense of wonder and adventure! I’ll catch up with your stories, little by little. You bring such pleasure to my imgaination! Thank you.

    • Paulette! So nice to hear from you. How on earth do you find the time to do what Andrew calls “extraneous reading”? I look forward to our next meeting and to hearing some stories of your recent adventures. Thank you for reading and hope to see you soon. x J

  4. Hi Jo – you could have joined us for lunch – there would have been more than enough!! What a walk. I am just about to do a sponsored 13 mile walk and that will ‘stretch’ me. Where I work now is a 2 minute walk away from where Uncle Ted used to live – Ricky hasn’t changed much at all and my walk to the office includes walking past ducks in the stream! Lovely stories Jo – keep writing, as ever. xxx

  5. Dear Lesley, 13 miles! Wow–The most I’ve done since was 10, and that was probably 10 years ago now, with Mum, Nikhil, and one of his friends. So nice to think of you working in Ricky, and that it’s being protected from too much further development. xo Jo

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