I can still remember the very first day I rode the bus. In those days public school began at grade one, so I started at age six. The day began with getting up and getting dressed, having breakfast while mom made and packed our school lunches in our lunch kits, and then walking out the driveway to wait at the road for the bus. Mom lined us up in our new school clothes and took our picture. Dad was also there to take me onto the bus for the first day. I imagine that our dog Sport and later Sparky, would also be with us as we waited together for the bus. I remember hearing my mother say that Sport would go to our gate when it was time for the bus at the end of the day, around 4:00 p.m.
We went to the road five or ten minutes before the bus was scheduled to arrive. The bus always arrived from the north and we could see it coming as soon as it turned the corner onto our road at the church two miles north of our place. For some reason I recall having a negative reaction to the color of the inside of the bus. I was expecting it to be a cheerful yellow to match the color of the outside of the bus. Instead, it had a pale, pinkish-tan interior. I didn’t like it. It made me feel yucky.
We played games while we waited beside the road on mornings. We would put our lunch kits down beside each other and find various things with which to occupy ourselves. Sometimes we would throw rocks from the gravel on the road at the power pole in the ditch on the south side of our driveway. In this same ditch there was also often standing water. In the late fall this water would form a layer of ice on its surface, and we would throw the rocks at this layer of ice and try to penetrate it. It late fall, when the ice became thicker, we would walk on it. Even though it would crack and sink—the water in the ditch was very shallow, so we were never in any danger of even getting wet. If there were air bubbles under a thin layer of ice we would break through these.
It was harder to wait for the bus in the cold of winter. When it was very cold we would sometimes have one of us stand and look for the lights of the school bus through the bathroom window. When we saw the lights we would have enough time to get out to the road before the bus showed up.
Our driver was Ralph Tate. He was an older man (at least he was not a young man), a common man. He and his wife lived in a humble house in Donalda. I don’t think he made a great income. Apparently he owned a truck. There is a photo in the Donalda history book (Donalda’s Roots and Branches) of his smashed up truck after it was hit by the train as he was crossing the tracks in Donalda.
Mr. Tate liked hunting and trapping. In the spring he would sometimes swerve to see if he could hit a gopher that was on the road. I’m not sure that he was always the best driver either. Once he took the speed corner at the church (Bethany) too sharply and drove right into the ditch. I believe he was able to back up onto the road again. Dad was unimpressed when we told him about this.
One morning we were later than usual in getting out to the road. We didn’t quite make it before the bus drove by. Dad must have been outside with us and saw the whole thing happen. In the past there were mornings when the bus would show up at our house or that of someone else with no one waiting at the stop. In such cases Ralph Tate would wait for a minute or two and maybe blow the horn. Usually the late kids would show up running to the bus while pulling on their jackets. But on this morning, he didn’t even stop. The bus drove right by! I remember that this made dad very angry. He had to drive us to school—or perhaps he caught up with the bus before it got to school. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I clearly remember how my dad was angry and that I have the sense that he boldly confronted Ralph Tate about this: “You didn’t even stop!”
One morning I brought my truck along with me as I waited for the bus. Other boys in my class had begun to bring their toys from home (toy trucks and so forth) and would play with them in the sandbox beside the school during noon hours. This practice gave me the idea of bringing my prized toy truck to school. As I was climbing up into the bus that day, Ralph Tate scolded me and said that it was too dangerous for me to take this truck on the bus. I felt quite embarrassed and had to run with my truck back to the corner of the yard and drop it there and run back to the bus with everyone watching. I had to go to school without it.
We lived very close to our neighbors, the Halseides. Their house was just across the road and a little south of our house. They had three daughters, Anna, Helen, and Edna. These sisters were all older than I was, so Edna was the only one who still went to school. I remember Edna getting on the bus, her large, swooshy skirt brushing me as she walked past me down the aisle in the morning.
I spent many hours of my childhood riding a school bus from grade one to grade twelve. I learned to daydream as I looked out on the passing countryside through the bus windows. Those were the early days of contemplation and meditation. I learned to be comfortable with my own thoughts and silence.