A Cold, Commercial World

June 2006By Mitchell Kalpakgian

Mitchell Kalpakgian is an Adjunct Professor of English at St. Anselm College and Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, New Hampshire.

I remember living without a car.
I remember weekly trips to the library.
I remember Sunday visits: You did not have to call or await an invitation.
I remember life without Little League and without a Recreation Office.
I remember real neighborhoods.
I remember stay-at-home mothers.
I remember the innocence of movies.
In Milford, Massachusetts, in the 1940s, I remember my mother walking from our home to my father's locksmith shop to bring him a hot meal for lunch. I was about three or four years old and walked by my mother's side as she pushed a baby carriage for the one-mile distance to Main Street. For the first 10 years of my life I recall only one member of the extended family who owned an automobile; everyone else walked to and from work and to and from church, and friends and relatives who visited on Sundays or holidays made their journey on foot or hired a taxi. I walked to school and then home for lunch and then back to school for the afternoon session only to walk home again at 3:30. I walked to the town park and back home every day in the summer to play baseball, and I walked to the library at least once a week to select books for the normal pastime of reading. Walking was a way of life for all ages, and only the elderly or handicapped used taxis for regular transportation. Bus transportation was available for those who worked in mills or factories too distant to walk.

Walking simplifies life, and it invigorates health. One learns to explore his immediate surroundings and to visit all the places of interest within walking distance. In a town of 15,000, the number of sites and places of interest north, south, east, and west seemed boundless. North Pond, Bear Hill, Prospect Heights (the Armenian and Portuguese section), the Milford Town Library, East Main Street (the Italian section), the Milford quarries, and Lake Nipmuc all seemed to a child like separate regions on the map of a large country, and Milford seemed like a universe rather than a town. Walking to and from all these places gave them a concrete reality and distinctive character so that one could either see, hear, or smell some unique sensation with each locale. The fresh smell of Kennedy's peanut butter in a downtown store; the sounds of Italian on the lips of immigrants from the old country; the dusty, antique look of the Milford locksmith shop with its rows of keys and jumble of locks; and the immaculate silence and spotless tidiness of the town library imprinted powerful impressions reinforced after each visit. By walking frequently to these various places, the town and all its special places assumed a definite shape and possessed a particular aura; reality was not abstract, vague, dull, or dingy.

Walking impresses upon a person the character of things that sightseeing from an automobile never captures. Walking instills a sense of a normal pace and a natural rhythm and cultivates leisureliness -- the opposite of the wild speech and abnormal restlessness that beset many drivers and cause bizarre behavior such as "road rage," not to speak of fatal accidents. Walking keeps a person in tune with nature, in touch with the earth, and mindful of the body. When the simple pleasure of walking disappears, the whole quality of life suffers as many associate stylish new cars with the height of human happiness.

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This is the second article in this month's issue for which I must say, "Thank you!"

You made me realize what a different world I experienced as a young child, walking back and forth (about a mile each way) to school each day.

The question that keeps coming to mind is: is there ANY way to get some of this back before it's lost forever? Or is that just the way of the world?
Posted by: nrobert2
June 09, 2006 09:52 AM EDT
I am 63, married 35 years, with two children and five (and counting) grandchildren, in a busy church/family community which takes all of my personal time and brings great joy. All those family events which fill our days are given even more meaning and joy because we prefer one another's company to television or electronic games.
Just this morning I received an email from a woman I know only superficially through another friend. I lunch with this woman, basically at her request and without a shred of common interest, about four times a year. She is divorced and without grandchildren and her two children are far away; she works and is without a church family; she frequently has dates through Internet services. I feel helpless before her isolation and pride of independence!!

She has now gathered up three friends and wishes to start a "community" which will exist on the Internet to discuss what "community" is.

As a subject, "community" is entirely without substance, and I am perplexed as to how to explain that you don't get "community" through an email discussion. She is expecting that the four of us will become fast friends, have lunch, and (God help me), GO SHOPPING. Will she be crushed if I refuse to join?? But where will I find time for that?

I will send her this article and pray that this whole thing will just go away. I of course believe that if they just leave the whole thing up to Him (OH, if only they were believers!!), he'll lead them to Community. Is there some role I must not reject here? I'm in a quandary.

Thanks for listening, whoever you are.
Posted by: jt4logos
March 03, 2008 09:35 AM EST
I must add that I am a great fan of Mitchell Kalpakgian, and I thank you for regularly featuring his articles. I was, just before getting on the Internet this morning, re-reading Leisure the Basis of Culture, which was resting on top of The Mysteries of Life in Children's Literature by my reading chair. I can't help but wonder at the coming together of all this on this Monday morning, March 3rd, the Year of our Lord 2008! Thank you for this reprint. Posted by: jt4logos
March 03, 2008 09:42 AM EST
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