I became nostalgic of my childhood after my high school class held its 40th reunion in July (which I missed but saw pictures of on Facebook) and the school season began last week for most of the children living in my area, while others began the season today. As it was when I was a child, township, county, and state lines decide what school each child goes to, which can alienate neighborhood friends by sending them to different school districts. I had a next-door neighbor who went to a rival school because the district line separated our properties. We were best friends during the three months of summer, and then barely saw each other during the rest of the year. We both rode buses—the yellow ones with flashing amber and crimson lights on them—and we would wave at each other while standing in front of our homes at seven o’clock in the morning, waiting for our rides. This was during the 1960s, so we weren’t privileged to cell phones. If such a thing had existed back then, we would have talked to and texted each other, and kept one another abreast of our lives instead of waving from our designated places that seemed miles apart from each other along our country road.
If you were a child who rode a bus in from the country to school, you may have had to sit on the edge of a seat along the aisle because of overcrowding. I spent those days from first grade to third grade learning how to balance myself on the edge of a seat without falling. By fourth grade, another bus added to our school lessened the amount of students crammed inside my bus. When that happened, I discovered the comfort of sitting fully in a seat. The only discomfort I recall was having the back of my head attacked by straight pins older kids shot through drinking straws.
Riding the back seats of the bus was a privilege reserved for older students, and most of the country boys that usually occupied them were ornery and mean when they had to wear starchy school clothes and spend their days indoors instead of out. Hijinks from them abounded when the many stops at houses occupied the bus driver. Younger students learned early to safeguard their lunchboxes, lest they arrive at school with no food to eat.
I enjoyed school, so despite the straight pins and occasional wedgie, my morning rides on the bus were filled with delicious anticipation. I made many friends on my bus until my father moved us to town so he could be closer to his job. I missed riding the bus most of all.
School buses traveling on sticky, tarry roads have a unique sound. It’s a haunting music to my ears fifty years later, and I have awakened often to the raspy six o’clock sound of bus tires singing to me during August, September, and October when the bedroom windows are still open. They sing a siren’s song of bygone days that I wish I could relive, if only for a week of waving to my neighbor and best friend who died five years ago from cancer. Of sitting on the bus with school chums that have moved away to distant places. Of talking about the latest Johnny Quest cartoon with that girl who said she was a tomboy and proud of it. Of trading baseball cards and lunches with an older boy named Frank who was killed in Viet Nam. Of riding home with the windows down at 60 miles an hour on those hot days when going home was the best feeling in the world after a long day at school. To do that would be the greatest “blast from the past” in the world.