(Note: “Uncle Kelley” and “Uncle Kent” in this story are sons of James Marshall Sanders and Emma Springfield. Another son is “Daddy” who is Prentice Sanders. The other characters are grandchildren and their friends.)
To hear my daughter tell it you’d think riding buses was something new. She says it’s neat-o (I believe that’s the term). She thought so even more when a nice-looking young college student was the driver.
Well, I’ve seen her bus. It’s just a bus. No personality, no charisma. If it weren’t for the novelty of the thing, riding it would be just as boring as riding number 20, which went north, or number 34, which went east, or number 36, which went down Yellow Creek, must have been back in my day. They were just regular big old plodding unimaginative school buses. I felt a little sorry for their riders.
Our bus, however, was something else, so to speak. It was a pickup with a bus bed on it, something like a plywood camper body. The bus bed could be hoisted off in a moment so that sides suitable for hauling cotton or cows could be substituted. And that’s what was done, often, especially in the cotton-picking season.
Daddy drove it for a couple of years about the time I started to school. Then my bachelor uncle, Kelley, took over and added bus driving to his six or seven other jobs.
He’d leave his house, which was just a couple of hundred yards from our house, and go up the west fork of the dirt road to Uncle Kent’s, where he’d pick up a flock of young’uns, then over by Uncle Jeff’s for some more, then circling to the right, on by the Chandlers, Bomans’, Todds’,
Matthews’ and others until he came back by our house down the east fork. He’d pick up another big bunch there–us and the Reeveses and Thompsons–and head to town, making another couple of stops on the way. That little ‘39 Chevy would be squatting for sure by then.
A seat in the cab was one to be coveted. There’d be three people up there besides Kelley. Norma and Nell had two of those seats pretty well reserved. We thought they’d never finish, but they finally did. Then Willa, Ginny, Nell Roberts and some of the rest of us got to ride up there once in a while.
It was crammed and probably illegal to be packed in there like that, but we loved it. We’d sing and play word games and hope (all of us except Kelley) that we’d get stuck when we forded Mile Reed branch after a heavy rain. We hardly ever did.
Yep, riding in the cab was a privilege, and a leg gone slap to sleep from big toe to hip bone was a small price to pay. Ginny created quite a commotion one time when she fell sprawling on the ground as she got out of the bus. They rushed her up to one of the little rooms by the auditorium stage that was wistfully called the first-aid room and frantically tested and worked with her till she was considered sufficiently revived to continue in her pursuit of knowledge. After all that, she just didn’t have the heart to tell them that it was only a foot gone to sleep that had made her fall.
Every morning when we’d come whipping into the circular driveway with the row of white posts on each side in front of the school, we’d sneer, just a little, at the riders of those conformist buses. And when school was out in the afternoon, Kelley’d get right at the back of the line of buses and get all loaded up in a hurry and we’d scoot past all the others, making jeering sounds and gestures all the while.
The bus also came in handy in the summertime for trips to the swimming hole or to the Farm Bureau barbecue or, most of all, to the fair at Columbus, Miss. in the fall. Kelley’d take time off from farming or embalming or doing tax returns or helping the sheriff raid stills or almost anything to haul us around.
The service was more personal on the school run than on the big buses, too. Take the time a clamor arose from the back as we were on the afternoon trip. “Stop the machine!” “Hey, stop!” Whistle, scream, bang-bang on the back of the cab! Jack was showing off his first five-dollar bill and it blew out the door. Had to back halfway up the hill there at Cousin John Todd’s and then get out and search through the kudzu a while. Found it, though.
And hardly anybody ever fell out. Oh, Wynell did one time. But it didn’t amount to much.
Didn’t hurt her any, I don’t think. On the other hand, maybe that’s what’s been wrong with her all these years.