School has started in my part of the world. On my way to the office this morning, I met 2 of the familiar faded yellow transporters coming out of the bus garage in Jamestown. I’m sure I cannot be the only one who grew up “in the sticks” and rode a school bus every day for 11 school years before getting my own car to drive to school and to work my senior year.
My memories of the school bus are as real as if I had just stepped out of Bus #5. I remember the afternoon smell of gym shoes and exhaust, crayons and “Love’s Baby Soft” or some sort of musk perfume that was popular among the high school students that sat in the “reserved” 6 seats in the back of that bus. There were the morning smells of bananas in brown paper lunch bags, smoke on the clothes of kids whose homes were heated with wood, and soap.
Town kids and country kids, they called us in grade school. The country kids were allowed to line up at the classroom door prior to the ringing of the bell at the end of the day. When that bell did ring, we raced to our bus, and to the familiar face of the bus driver. Betsy, Bud and Albert were my drivers for those 11 years. I feel very fortunate to have had such conscientious human beings driving those enormous kid-carriers through hills and “hollers” in all sorts of weather and through all levels of road disrepair. I also feel fortunate that each of those drivers cared deeply for each and every child with whose care they were charged for those hours before and after school.
We were lucky, my siblings and I, to be one of the later stops in the morning, but we rode the bus for at least an hour each afternoon. I won’t bore you by listing the family names of those who rode with us, but the bond developed there goes as deep as any that I can recall from my early school days. We took care of one another, in a way. During the school day, we probably didn’t hang out together because we were of different ages, but on the bus, we were family. If, during those awkward 7th and 8th grade school years, I felt miserable at school because I was popular yesterday and not popular today, I knew my school bus family would not see me differently. They did not judge me on my level of acceptance at school. They did not care if I was picked last on the softball team that day, or if I had been voted by my classmates as queen candidate for the Penny Carnival. I was “just Cyndi” to them.
Driving by the feedlot managed by the father of 7 of my school bus family members, it never failed, someone would say, “Smell that money!” There was the girl who always tried to sneak a smoke in the back of the bus, and the girl who sang Mac Davis songs in a gravelly voice and with such passion that we would beg for more. Rich or poor, we didn’t care. We were all country kids.
I always wave at school bus drivers when I meet them on the highway. I know there are a handful of drivers out there that probably shouldn’t be charged with such an awesome responsibility for one reason or another. I have heard horror stories of children being picked on or ignored when they asked for help, but I would like to believe that the majority of those driving those faded yellow buses are made of the same stuff as Bud, Betsy and Albert. The pay probably isn’t very good, but the potential influence and impact that a bus driver has on a child’s life. . .well, that is priceless.