Our Front Walk

By Julia Nunnally Duncan | December 18th, 2023

Where memories were made through the years

Writer Julia Nunnally Duncan (in ball jersey) and her friend, Edna, standing on the front walk featured in the story, circa 1967.

Some special inanimate objects, small and large, hold an outsized meaning in our memories. For Boomer reader Julia Nunnally Duncan, her family’s front walk was one.

Our front cement walk that led from the porch steps to the street was wide and long. For a time, my mother lined both sides of the walk with flowers. From my earliest childhood in the late 1950s and into the 1960s, I played on this walk. Here I rode my tricycle, turning before I reached the street. The street was quiet then, however, a safe place for neighborhood kids to play dodge ball.

On the walk, my friends and I played “Simon Says” and “Mother, May I.” My mother sat on the bottom porch step, while we kids waited at the far end of the walk, and she gave us commands: “Simon says, ‘Twirl around’” or “Take two giant steps.” Here on Saturday afternoons, I dipped a wand in my soap bubble bottle, which my mother had just bought for me at the Roses five-and-dime during our weekly visit to town, and blew iridescent bubbles till I inevitably spilled all the liquid on the walk.

Another activity I enjoyed on the walk was balancing on can-walkers my mother made for me from empty Campbell soup cans with twine attached for handles. (She had remembered her own can-walkers from her Depression-era childhood in a Marion cotton mill village.) Can-walkers worked like stilts to elevate you when you stood on them. They took some getting used to. But once I stood atop the cans, gained my balance, and held the twine handles tightly enough to secure the cans snug against the soles of my shoes, I paraded on the sidewalk, clomping and feeling tall.

On the walk I practiced roller skating. One Christmas I received a set of roller skates that attached to your shoes and could be adjusted with a key. Early on Christmas morning after I found them under the tree, I sat and held the metal skates in my hands, admiring the pretty red-and-green tartan straps. Thankfully the walk was not snow-covered that Christmas Day, so after dinner, I went outside, sat on the bottom porch step, and attached the skates. Taking careful steps at first, I eventually gained confidence and rolled back and forth on the walk, learning to skate.

As I grew older and had a horse, Thunder, I cantered in the field below our house and trotted around the house, resting for a moment at the walk. One summer day, as Thunder and I approached the walk, I saw a snake stretched across the cement. Living in rural Western North Carolina, I knew enough about snakes to recognize that this one was a copperhead. I quickly pulled the rein, turning Thunder around, and headed to the backyard corral. After he was in the corral, I ran back to the front yard, saw the copperhead still lying there, and went to get my neighbor, Neal. He brought his hoe, cut the snake’s head off, and hung the snake in his vegetable garden. Thankfully, I never again saw a snake on the walk.

The story of Thunder: ‘A Horse of My Own’ 

As a teenager in the early 1970s, I ended dates with my future husband, Steve, on this walk, talking on the front porch for a while and then heading to the walk to say goodnight. He asked me years later, “Do you remember when I kissed you the first time?” And I recalled a warm spring night when he and I lingered on the walk and he pressed his lips against my cheek. Here our romance blossomed.

Time changes – even the front walk

For decades the walk stayed solid and strong until time and weather deteriorated it, causing it to crack and lose chunks of cement. Though its flaws were patched, it was uneven in spots and caused risky walking, so my mother decided to have a new walk built. After the cement was poured, smoothed, and set and we could use the new walk, I immediately missed the old one. Though the new walk was well-made and safer to tread on, it just wasn’t the same. I thought about the many moments of my life that had been spent on that familiar old pathway – days that were gone forever. But I remember those times and the walk where they happened, and I hold to those memories.

FEATURED PHOTO CAPTION: Writer Julia Nunnally Duncan (in ball jersey) and her friend, Edna, standing on the front walk featured in the story, circa 1967.

"All We Have Loved" book cover, by Julia Nunnally DuncanJulia Nunnally Duncan lives in her hometown of Marion, North Carolina, where most of her personal essays and poems are set. Her 10 books of prose and poetry include an essay collection, A Place That Was Home (eLectio Publishing), and her essays often appear in Smoky Mountain Living Magazine.

Duncan’s most recent book, All We Have Loved, is an intimate portrait of a woman’s life in Western North Carolina, a place of unique culture and traditions. The book is filled with items, like the handkerchief, that capture the moments of life: ominous and violent or loving and joyful. All We Have Loved explores universal themes of family love, attachment to a place, and the enduring power of friendship. Readers can order her book online at Finishing Line Press.

Julia is retired now from her profession as an English instructor, but she stays busy writing, gardening, and spending time with her husband, Steve, and their daughter, Annie.

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Read more childhood memories and other contributions from Boomer readers in our From the Reader department.

Have your own childhood memories or other stories you’d like to share with our baby boomer audience? View our writers’ guidelines and e-mail our editor at Annie@BoomerMagazine.com with the subject line “‘From Our Readers’ inquiry.”

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