When I was in elementary school, I was a walker. The school was one block from my house, and I walked to school in the mornings and home in the afternoons. My Granny made me a denim satchel so I could carry my books. Although I often walked with friends (several kids lived in the neighborhood), I didn't mind walking alone.
Each day, I passed the red fire hydrant, whose name was Darlene. I remember I named her that because she was manufactured by American Darling Valve, and the name of the company was molded into the iron, just beneath her jaunty red bonnet. "Darling" seemed too informal; and she had an important job to do if called upon, so I decided her given name must be Darlene.
I also passed the weeping willow, whose long limbs swept the ground around the base of her trunk. On days I walked alone, I called out to her and gave a friendly wave. I imagined that my cheery hello helped her overcome, if only for a moment, whatever made her weep.
Between Darlene and the weeping willow, I made my way across a cracked sidewalk, so buckled in places that it was unwise to run across it even if it meant you might be late for class. Sometimes, though, I galloped, on an invisible horse. My satchel became a saddlebag filled with letters that must be delivered by Pony Express. Some days I leaned back as I walked, one arm in front of me, holding the leashes of my invisible Dobermans, Laurel and Hardy, who strained at their collars in their rush to get to the playground.
In warmer months, blue-tailed lizards darted from the cracks and over the high retaining wall, daring me to try and catch them. I'd been told their bite was poisonous; so I stopped to let them pass, watching as they disappeared over the edge, dare deviling their way on sticky feet, face first, toward the ground below.
A black iron rail was cemented into the crumbling sidewalk, preventing kids from falling over the retaining wall. Out of view of grown-ups, I used the rail as a gymnastics bar, stopping to hang upside down, the backs of my knees looped over the top, the ends of my long hair brushing against the sidewalk.
I loved walking to school and home again, with a story playing out in my head and my satchel, filled with library books, bouncing against my thigh. It was a short walk, but long on imagination and peopled with characters almost as real to me as the neighbors who lived in the houses I passed.
I was a cowgirl, a gymnast, a firefighter, a dog trainer, friend of trees and lizards. I was a walker, and the fantastic worlds I dared to dream were all within walking distance.