April 16, 2011

The Old Yellow School Bus

This column ran in seven Indiana newspapers during the past week.
With our nest empty, we take little notice of the local school schedule. When our son was in school, I had one ear cocked for outside noises, listening for the slippery gears of the yellow school bus as it came over the hill to our house. Our son rode the bus from kindergarten until the end of his sophomore year in high school when he finally earned his driver’s license.

Funny how small children can’t wait to get on the yellow school bus. We take their first-day-of-school pictures by the front door, with their new backpack hanging off their shoulders. On that first day, children race in their new white school tennis shoes to board the bus for school.

By junior high, the bloom is usually off that rose. There’s a lot of eye-rolling and a heaping helping of convincing by the child that parents provide transportation to and from school. In our neighborhood, our son had to walk about half a mile to the junior high and high school bus stop. (His pitiful stories don’t wash, and pale in comparison to my husband’s difficulties as first on-last off from Duck Creek Boone Elementary School and Summitville Junior High bus routes. Most years, his were more than an hour each way.

Or our son’s maternal grandfather who walked three miles to school in large snowdrifts in Carroll County. There must have been some pretty bad weather in Camden in the late 1930s, with blizzards in both September and May, she said wryly.
I liked riding the bus. Of course my brother and I were second-to-last on and second-to-first off. I did not ride a school bus until I was in the fourth grade when our family moved a mile north of South Whitley from town.

The bus arrived right at 8 a.m. and my brother and I fought for shelf space between our wooden front door and the storm door. We liked to stand there a few minutes early and draw on the frosty window, fighting over space for our finger drawings. When one of us had enough, we might take our red mitten and swipe the whole thing clean. Then the other would blow on the glass, and create a new palette for Smiley faces and initials. Important work, to be done by a first and fourth grader every morning.

Soon my brother and I were just as jaded as the average school bus rider because of a terrible incident. My mother earned extra income for our family by substitute teaching in the Whitko School Corporation. She got on the bus with us one day and rode to her assignment. Hands up to your face! Did you read that correctly? Our mother got on the bus with us!

This was unthinkable! Our family’s second car a 1950s sedan named “Grace” (yes, we named the vehicle after the Little Old Lady who only Drove it to Church on Sunday from whom we purchased it). This lovely vehicle decided to choke to death at the end of our drive-way one wintry morning after my father, also a teacher, had already left for school. Mom had no choice. With her book bag, she climbed on the bus with us. She smiled and spoke to our driver, Mr. Draper, which made it worse. She knew him! How could we ever face the other children?

We did face the other children. Mom knew what she had to do. She completed her day, and got right back on the bus with us for the short trip home. Would the adversity never end?

The Raven Lunatic, A.M. Abbott © 2011