Milestones, both big and small, pass in a flash

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What began as a recent routine afternoon walk in my cul-de-sac was transformed into a trip down memory lane when I saw two families picking up their youngsters from the school bus.

When I passed one family’s house, I told them, “The torch has been passed,” referring to the years that I used to do the same thing when my daughters were moving through the local school system.

The stroll took place just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and that realization made me feel very old – I realized that my older daughter, Arianna, had just started kindergarten when 9/11 happened. Now she’s a fifth-grade teacher, glad to be back in the classroom in person after juggling remote and hybrid schedules for most of the last school year due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I felt even older as I recalled that our younger daughter, now a junior in college, was only 5 months old when 9/11 occurred. (We adopted her the following April in China, two days before her first birthday.)

Twenty years, considered a generation, is a long time, but on this sunny, crisp late-summer day, eerily similar to the weather on Sept. 11, 2001, it felt like a really short time had passed since I started walking my kids to and from the bus stop.

Except, of course, that it had indeed been a long time.

By the time my kids were in middle school, they no longer wanted to get picked up, preferring to walk home with friends or alone.

As the years passed, I’d drop my older daughter off for her after-school job on my way to work for my late afternoon/night shift. And once they got their driver’s licenses, they were on their own.

All of this happened gradually, of course, but when I saw my neighbors getting their children off the bus, I traveled back in my mind’s time machine all the way to 1961, which was 20 years after Pearl Harbor, which 9/11 was compared to in the days and weeks after the terror attacks.

I was only 9 in 1961, but I don’t recall that anniversary carrying anywhere near the weight that the 20th anniversary of 9/11 did. Part of that could have been because Pearl Harbor was the start of the nation’s involvement in a global conflict that ended in clear victories over the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. I read that there was a ceremony at Pearl Harbor commemorating the 20th anniversary of the “Day of Infamy,” but that there weren’t many other observances on a scale of what took place on Sept. 11, 2021.

The significance of my trip back in time was that it showed me that for all the changes the country has endured over the last 60 years, parents are still doing some of the same things.

My neighbors in 2021 are making school-day morning and afternoon strolls to the bus stop, just as I had done with my two daughters from 2001 until my younger daughter was in her final two years of middle school, in 2014 and 2015.

And, going back further, the afternoon pickup today isn’t all that different from what my dad used to do, walking me home from Hebrew School classes, which in the late fall and winter was well past sunset.

It was a much different era back then, and growing up in the Dorchester and Mattapan neighborhoods in Boston, I routinely walked to school with my friends from the elementary grades through junior high, which was ninth grade when I attended.

After that point, I took what were then MTA buses, trolleys and trains to and from high school. Older readers will recognize the MTA from the popular 1959 folk song, “Charlie on the MTA.” (Written by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax in 1949, it was originally a campaign song for Boston mayoral candidate Walter O’Brien, before the Kingston Trio made it a hit.)

The Metropolitan Transit Authority, or MTA, eventually became the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, or MBTA, which I rode to and from college in Boston.

After graduating in 1974, I moved away to start my newspaper career, then, 11 years later, moved back to the Bay State, got married a few years later, and then, 28 years ago, bought our house.

It’s hard to believe that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, happened 20 years ago, just as it sometimes doesn’t seem real that our children have grown up.

That’s why, when I saw my neighbors getting their kids off the bus, I not only felt as if the torch had been passed, but I also saw my life flash before me. That’s one of the inevitable consequences of growing old.

LARRY KESSLER (larrythek65@gmail.com) is a freelance writer based in North Attleboro. He blogs at larrytheklineup.blogspot.com