In a town of 7,500, I found myself in a long line of traffic that would not budge. In either lane.
Finally, I eased into the old Tastee Freeze lot, pulled my sewing machine from the back seat, and walked it across the road to The Common Thread where I was dropping it for repair.
“What’s going on?” I exclaimed.
“School pick-up line.”
I stared at the jam of a hundred or more cars. “Doesn’t anyone ride the school bus anymore?”
Riding the school bus for 10 years was one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. On the first day of first grade, I begged Mama to let me take the bus instead of riding with her when she went to register me. Daily, since a toddler, I sat on the front steps to watch it pass our house and dreamed of those big doors swooshing open for me.
Oh, the lessons I learned from that gentle yellow bus — such as the discipline of being ready and on time. The school bus waited for no one. There was no cajoling, threatening or begging by Mama. I knew to be ready and waiting when it turned off the highway and headed down our road.
Only once in 10 years did I miss the bus. It was a minute early, I was a minute late. My hand was on the front door knob when I heard it slow as the driver glanced around for reliable me. My heart fell as I watched its tail lights head over the bridge. I had missed the bus.
Literally and figuratively, I would never do that again.
A friendship from those school bus days instilled confidence. Vicki, two years older and one of the most popular girls in the entire school, saved me a seat beside her every morning and afternoon. Sometimes she wore her cheerleading suit and that made me feel even more special.
The school bus introduced me to the seasons that come and go. In the gentle spring, birds serenaded me as I waited at the mailbox while the autumn brought a colorful array of oranges, yellows and reds to entertain me. It became my favorite season, and those became the colors I wear and with which I decorate.
The bitter cold Appalachian mornings left me shivering miserably while the rain storms forced me to shelter under the front porch, then run, books clutched tightly in my arms, as hard as I could when I saw the headlights turn the corner.
Later, I realized that it was a metaphor for life: storms would rage occasionally, birds would rejoice at times, and there would be days of sheer beauty.
My brother-in-law, Rodney, drove a school bus. Every afternoon, his small son waited excitedly in front of the house for Rodney to return from his route. Rodney would stop, open the doors and welcome his most cherished passenger to ride the 20 yards to the bus’s parking place. What a memory.
One of Rodney’s colleagues had a 9-year-old passenger who was typical boyish trouble. The first child on in the morning, the last off in the afternoon, Jimmy spent every ride in a haze of flying fists and bloody noses. No amount of disciplining or trips to the principal’s office could deter him.
In the midst of one fierce back-of-the bus battle, the driver pulled over to the side of the road.
“Jimmy, come here!” he bellowed. The little boy, head hung, slunk to the front.
“This fightin’ is gonna stop. TODAY.” The driver commenced into a serious come-to-Jesus. Suddenly, Jimmy’s head snapped up, his eyes widened. He was upset.
“But, Mr. Jackson, you don’t understand!” he cried out. He pounded his chest frantically. “One day, I’m gonna win!”
That particular school bus lesson has traveled with me down through the journey of life.
It has served me well.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know About Faith.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column publishes weekly.