|My Dad. My brother, George. And me|
Okay. I was six. Grade one is hard work! I was tired! And we lived a million miles from town!
Living 20 miles from the local schools might be a blessing during ‘snow days’ in the winter when the buses didn’t run, but the rest of the time, it merely meant a very long ride. A very long, boring ride. Homework completed while seated in a shockless bus travelling along rough gravelled roads (and I use the term ‘gravelled’ lightly) was never so much completed as . . . erm . . . attempted. Illegible would be another word to describe it. In fact, for the first years of my schooling, my teachers thought I had the worst writing ever. Not that it changed much in ensuing years, but . . . oh, never mind.
If one didn’t have friends to visit with, the trip was interminable. Especially to a six year old.
Which I was.
Seating was a highly organized, painstakingly structured fact of bus life. The eldest kids got to sit in the back. The youngest directly behind the bus driver. Hijinks were restricted to the back two rows. Your progress through school and through life was largely measured by where you sat in the school bus.
I had never sat behind the first seat.
Until that fateful day.
The Lindemans weren’t on the bus. One seat in the second last row was empty. Just waiting to be claimed.
My day had come.
Our bus driver, a wonderfully kind and loving man named Dick Sabey was responsible for delivering us safely into the waiting arms of our mother, Enes Stringam, at Nine Mile Corner. It was a corner situated, interestingly enough, exactly nine miles from our ranch buildings.
Okay, so imaginative, we weren’t.
Day after day, our faithful friend dropped us off at the corner. Waving to us cheerfully as we began the trek towards home.
Usually, we managed only a few yards before our mother’s car, trailing a cloud of dust on the country road, appeared around the turn. She would skid to a halt and load us in, questions and news being tossed back and forth before the doors had even closed.
Occasionally, when our amazingly busy Mom was late, we would manage to make it to the Sproade’s, an elderly couple who lived about ½ mile from the corner and whose house was always filled with the rich smell of wonderful German baking. Baking which needed to be eaten. By ravenously hungry school children.
We prayed every day our Mom would be late.
But I digress . . .
It was chilly. I don’t remember if it was Spring or Fall, but the weather necessitated the wearing of fairly warm clothing. I had a golden faux fur parka. Purchased by my Dad specifically for a trip to cut our family’s Christmas tree. A coat that could easily have doubled as a bear disguise. But which was wonderfully warm . . . and cosy . . . and comfortable . . .
When I awoke some time later, Dick and his dear wife, Scotty, were standing over me, shaking me gently. I sat up and looked around. It was dark. The lights of the Sabey home were shining dimly into the shadowy bus.
Nine Mile Corner was nowhere to be seen. Or my brothers and sister. Or my Mom.
That’s when the tears started.
Dick picked me up and carried me into the house, where Scotty calmed me and cuddled me. And fed me. (Amazing how so many of my stories revolve around food.)
Later, my relieved parents arrived to pick me up and the story was finally told.
The Stringam kids usually left the bus in a group. Bundled as they were for the cold, and huddling together, their actual numbers were impossible to make out by the bus driver, though he was watching alertly to make sure they were safely on their way. Since I hadn’t been sitting in my usual spot, the kids had concluded that I was staying in town, for some function or other. After a short, very short, meeting to discuss my possible whereabouts, they had quickly covered the ½ mile to the Sproade’s and Mrs. Sproade’s snacks. By the time our Mom arrived and my absence was noted, the bus was long gone.
The time for panic had truly arrived.
Cell phones existed only in the imaginations of science fiction writers. The only phone connection available was a single party line, installed by my father (and enormously entertaining, but that is another story) for the use of the entire ‘117’ community.
Mom wasted no time in calling the Sabey household and raising the alarm. Dick hadn’t yet returned from his route, so Scotty waited breathlessly at the front window for the bus. When he arrived, she met him and the two of them quickly searched the bus.
They soon discovered that a bulky coat, discarded on one of the last seats, actually contained a person. Not a very big person, to be sure, but a person just the same.
Some time later, with my Mom’s arms around me, I could see the humour of the situation.
Until I grew taller, about grade nine or so, I never again sat anywhere but directly behind the bus driver. It was safer there. And less forgetful.
And, oddly enough, I find it impossible to fall asleep in a moving vehicle.
Except when I’m driving.