Way back when, the school bus was a microcosm of life. The first time I fell in love happened on the school bus. Some of the best times my best friend and I had were on the school bus. But it also was on the school bus we cowered from bullies. We even learned about agriculture from inside it.
My best friend and I lived close to town, so we could walk to school if we wanted. However, since sometimes our parents were stingy about letting us see each other, we would get on the bus when it first started its route, at 5:45 a.m., and ride in it all through the country as it picked up kids and later passed our houses again on the way back to school.
During the times the bullies on the bus were extra bad and scary, in fact, we would drop the bus for a few weeks and walk the mile to school.
There was one other thing that gets us walking again: fertilizing time.
However, with both the mean girls and the fertilizing, we never got advance warning when things would be bad.
We’d get on the school bus before the sun even had risen, cheerful and naïve. At some point in the ride, our chatter and laughter would die down as stark realization shot through us.
Either the mean girls had decided to target us again – or we smelled chicken manure. The farmers had fertilized their fields.
As soon as you caught the first whiff of chicken manure, you knew you were in for it, and there was nothing you could do. It would only get worse, rising to a stench so strong and vile it pushed out any and all thoughts in your mind to those of pure survival.
We’d close the bus windows to keep out the repulsive smell, but the heat would build up inside, and it also would seem as if we had trapped the stink inside, so we would open the windows again for fresh air – a never-ending back-and-forth of trying to find a better way.
Now whenever I clean out the chicken coop (I’m getting behind – and better do it pretty soon) and scatter the old, stinky litter down on the gardens, the smell takes me automatically back to ole Bus 78.
Something else took me back to Bus 78, and in a good way. I was on a school bus for 7¾ hours (a trip that would take 4 hours by car) for a field trip with my daughter.
The other adults joked lightheartedly about how physically uncomfortable it was, but because there were no bullies inside or chicken manure outside, for me it was pretty good as far as bus rides go.
Something about sitting on those brown bench seats took me back to the image of a 14-year-old boy who was all elbows, knees and teeth. Those parts of him gave him an awkward look, but the rest of him, which was trying to catch up in growth, was handsome (“cute” we called it back then), and he enchanted me.
And just as I saw past Chris’s growing pains to his captivating personality and smile, he made me feel he didn’t notice my braces, tummy and bad perm and instead saw whatever potential I had inside me, some mysterious good qualities that until then I didn’t know I had.
My best friend was a good sport to put up with my divided attentions on the bus, which until then was our special sanctuary with no interruptions allowed. Her patience with my distractions by Chris paid off when he eventually introduced her to his best friend, James – who, in time, would cure her of the dreaded worry of “sweet 16 and never been kissed” exactly two weeks before the deadline, which had been worrying both Kim and me.
Our bus driver last Sunday delivered us safely home from our field trip in much better time than it took to get there.