With school starting in a couple of weeks, I found myself reminiscing about those old days when everyone rode the school bus.
No one owned a car to drive to school. And ... if your parent drove to you school - it was considered downright embarrassing. No one wanted their parents to drop them off at school. If they did, you asked your parents to drop you off three or four blocks from school, so you could walk the rest of the way.
I rode the bus almost every day of my entire elementary, junior high and high school career. I say “almost” because I missed the bus once when I was a teenager and my dad made me walk the mile and a half to town. I had asked him if he’d give me a ride to school. Instead, he pointed his finger to the road and said, “The road’s not crowded, you best start walking.”
Walking to town was a good lesson because I don’t believe I ever missed the bus again. Today, I think they might call that child abuse. Back then, it was a lesson on how to be on time.
In my experience, mornings and afternoons on the bus were two different rides.
Looking out the school bus window, a kid could see the hue of the corn start to change from green to a golden yellow. Through the morning mist hovering over the corn fields, you could see our elderly neighbor tending her beautiful flower gardens or our neighbor walking from the milk barn with buckets of milk, one in each hand, towards his farmhouse.
The morning school bus ride was silent as we watched the rituals of daily farm life take shape. Some of us would just be content to watch life, while others would find a quiet spot on the bus to catch up with their homework, trade baseball cards or wonder what was to eat in our lunch box our mothers packed.
School buses were filled with chatter in the afternoon. Stories of who spelled all the words right on their spelling test, to who hit the home run in the fourth versus fifth grade baseball game.
It also was an opportunity to eat what was left of your lunch on the ride home. My mom would pack a few extra cookies, telling us to always save a couple for the bus ride home, in case we got hungry.
Some older boys, from time to time, would ask if they could have a cookie. If I had an extra oatmeal-raisin I’d toss one their way. However, when they started to snatch lunch boxes from smaller elementary kids and make them cry - I took action into my own hands as a fifth grader. I took my lunch box (made of metal) and hit one of them over the head with it. Ruined my lunch box but it stopped those teenage boys from bullying the younger kids.
Later that evening when our telephone rang, I had a sneaking suspicion I was in trouble. Our bus driver, also our neighbor, wanted to talk to my dad.
After Dad hung up the phone, he asked me to show him my lunch box. After careful examination, Dad sat me down at the kitchen table to have a conversation about standing up for what you believe is right and wrong.
Standing up for the young children being picked on, was right; however using my lunch box to teach a teenage boy a lesson, was wrong.
I knew my dad was right. I shouldn’t have clobbered the teenager with my lunch box ... even though I did get a wee bit of satisfaction out of doing it.
My father reminded me there always will be people in this world and my life who will want to pick a fight or stir up controversy.
He told me that’s what people do to justify their importance. In the real scheme of life, he said, those individuals are cowards hiding behind layers of insecurities.
My dad didn’t have a college education, but he knew how to deal with people. “Be kind to unkind people,” he always reminded me. “They need it the most.”
Lessons in life aren’t just learned in the school classroom or the playground. They’re also learned while riding that big yellow school bus to and from school.