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Monday, September 26, 2011

No. 72 Ridin' the School Bus

One bright and sunny fall afternoon in October of 1960, as I arrived home from school, I saw my mother waiting anxiously on the front porch. Even at a distance I could tell that she was excited. As soon as I came within earshot, she started telling me something she was anxiously waiting to tell.

“They won,” she almost shouted, “the Pirates won! Their second baseman (Bill Mazeroski) hit a home run in the last inning and the Pirates won!” She was letting me know that the Pittsburgh Pirates had defeated the New York Yankees in the seventh and final game of the World Series. She loved the Pirates, and because she did I did too, and she was excited to let me know that our team had won this time, especially against the Yankees.

She knew exactly when to expect me to come walking along the road, because that day like every other day of my grade school experience, I had taken the bus both to and from school. For eight years, without an exception that I can remember, each morning I walked the fifty yards or so from our front porch and across the road to Edith (Guthrie’s) store. My brother Teff and I would gather there with as many as a dozen others just like us, and wait to be picked-up by an orange-colored school bus driven by Miss Frankie.

Just like clockwork, at about 7:30 in the morning, the bus would pull to a stop, extend a brightly colored “stop” sign, and then open the door to let us get on. There were another few stops both before and after and they were spaced so as to allow for neighborhood groups to gather for economy of both time and costs.  Even so, we would arrive at school no more than five minutes before the first bell rang announcing the beginning of the school day.

A few of my classmates lived near enough to walk to class, and even fewer were dropped-off by a family car, but most of us shared the experience of commuting each day on a school bus. Once in school we were divided into classes, but at the bus stop and until we were let off, we were all, from first graders to eighth graders, packed together and part of a special group.

Edith’s store (see post no. 38 “More than just a Store”) was a rectangular building, painted white and made of cinder blocks, that was no more than 12 X 24 ft in size. She had a gas-powered stove that we gathered around on cold winter mornings, but most of the time we amused ourselves outside as we waited for the bus. The store had #2 pencils that were 3¢ each, or two for a nickel, as well as both nickel and dime packs of paper. The pickings may have been small, but those were about the only two tools then used in a classroom, besides books and desks.

Some friendships and relationships were forged at the bus stop and on the bus that were unique in my childhood experience. I recall how older kids, usually but not always girls, would take special care to make sure that the younger ones were seated and safe. Sometimes they would even ask about homework, or if you had your lunch money for the day. They would also protect the weaker children from the “bullies” that were, and probably always will be, a part of growing up. As the years progressed, we younger ones matured into the same roles and responsibilities. Many years later I still recall with affection the special friends that I knew so intimately only on that bus.

The dynamic of the bus stop and bus ride would change only a little when I started high school in the fall of 1967. Even then I was never among the select few who traveled to school in a car. The daily routine of commuting started a little earlier and ended little later, as the ride went from being a little less than one mile to more than ten. And, because of after-school practices for football, basketball and baseball, I often had to find another way home in the evening.

My situation was no different from the vast majority of my contemporaries. Hard as it may be for today's students to imagine, there were almost as many buses as cars in the parking lot of our school. Most of us lived in a world where only parents had cars of their own, and not even all of them. My mother did not drive and my father didn't own an automobile until after I had left for college. I took my drivers license exam in a car that belonged to my brother-in-law. Even after I was able to buy for myself a 1959 Ford Fairlane that my sister and I painted black with brushes to hide the rust, the cost of gas alone made driving back and forth each day impractical.

So the school bus remained my primary transportation until the very end of my school years at home. On the day I graduated from East Carteret High School in the Spring of 1970,  I left from home on Bus # 27 that picked me up at Edith's store, and I jumped out of the same bus at the very same location almost nine hours later.

During those halcyon days at Harkers Island Elementary, when the final bell of the school day rung, usually at 3:00 in the afternoon, the Principal, Miss Wade, would announce that the “first bus” could gather at the front door. The “second (last) bus” crowd that included me would have to wait another half hour or so for the bus to return. We would then be packed back into our seats and backtrack the same route we had followed in the morning. When Miss Frankie put our the stop sign and opened the door, I would run across the road in front of the bus, where I would find my boyhood world just as I had left it, except on special occasions like when the Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series.

2 comments:

  1. That's good stuff right there, Pa! :) BOO YANKEES~!

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  2. Clifford Rice Joel, the boat visible from 1:36 to 1:43 is the LeRod, owned by Gary Yeomans and named for his sons Leland and Rodney. She is in a photo I posted in the Harkers Island Memories group on October 6, 2010. Gary might recognize who is in the film...Cliff

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