Maryann Nunnally, Porters Neck

Maryann Nunnally

When I was in the fifth grade, the school I attended became overcrowded with the rise in births after WWII.  The school system acquired a surplus military Quonset hut and moved the 5th and 6th graders into it.  I loved the new 5th-grade classroom, but there was a problem.  The walk to the old elementary school was less than a mile, but the new Quonset was more than two miles away.  When I was at the old school, I could walk home for lunch and walk back without having to swallow my food whole and run.  The new walk meant that I had barely enough time before I had to jump up and run most of the way back.  Because my mom made our main meal at noon to please my father, she wanted me to be there to eat.  The truth was I wanted to be there to eat as well.  However, the long walk was definitely a problem.

One morning I overheard some of the boys talking about a shortcut to school.  When I questioned them, they explained that they walked up the railroad tracks, crossed the creek on the trestle, took a path through some woods, skirted the football field, and arrived at the Quonset with time to spare.  One of them said that it cut about thirty minutes off the walking time.

That noon I used the shortcut back to school.  They were right; it cut my time in at least half.  From then on in that was the way I walked to and from school.

The railroad trestle crossed a little creek which in the fall of the year was mostly dry and about ten feet below the trestle.  The trestle had no sides to keep a walker from falling off, but it was wide enough to stay between the train rails and jump from tie to tie.

One day, my mother asked me how I could get home so quickly.  When I explained about the shortcut, she was horrified.  She sternly told me to never go that way again. It is way too dangerous. “

So, the shortcut was out.  From then on in, I walked the long way.  However, one lunchtime when I had dallied over my mom’s fried chicken, I realized that I was going to be late returning to school.  So, I thought, “Just this one time, I’ll take the shortcut.”

I was feeling pretty anxious about disobeying Mom when someone blew a car horn in town.  I jumped and fell off the side of the trestle and landed on the rocks below.  In just a few moments, I knew I had broken my wrist.  The pain was extreme.

Just then a man walking back to work at the local foundry came sliding down the bank of the creek and helped me up and out.  Despite the pain in my wrist, I continued down the tracks and on to school.  Once in my classroom, I was sent to the nurse.  The nurse checked my wrist, announced that my wrist was broken and sent me home.  I walked all the way home the long way.

Mom met me at the door and later after a visit to the doctor, my mother simply said, “When I told you not to cross that trestle, and you see now what happens when you disobey.”

Had she told me earlier what she was really afraid of, I think I would never have taken the risk of the shortcut.  In those woods was a hidden hobo camp, and men who were walking the tracks looking for work were often living there.  It took my father explaining to me the danger of going near that camp to make me understand the risk I took.

I’d liked to say that I avoided shortcuts from then on in, but the truth is that I still take shortcuts.  For example, when I’m driving in a new area, I often take a shortcut and end up at a dead-end or in an area where I know I would not be welcome.  I guess I just can’t avoid taking the risk of a quicker way to get where I want to go.