Memories from the 11 years I spent riding a school bus came flooding back in recent days as school is back in session in my part of the world and I see those yellow buses on the country roads I travel.
Several years ago, in this space, I expressed my gratitude to school bus drivers. If there ever was a time when the men and women transporting children and teenagers to and from school deserve some praise, it is now.
My memories of the school bus are as real as if I had just stepped out of Bus #5. I remember the afternoon smell of gym shoes and exhaust, crayons and “Love’s Baby Soft,” or some sort of musk perfume that was popular among the high school students that sat in the “reserved” six seats in the back of that bus.
There were the morning smells of bananas in brown paper lunch bags, smoke on the clothes of kids whose homes were heated with wood and soap.
Town kids and country kids, they called us in grade school. The country kids lined up at the classroom door at the end of the day. When the bell rang, we raced to our bus and to the familiar face of the bus driver. Betsy, Bud and Albert were my drivers for those 11 years.
I feel fortunate to have had such conscientious human beings driving those enormous kid-haulers through hills and “hollers” in all sorts of weather and through all levels of road disrepair.
I also feel fortunate that each of those drivers cared deeply for every child with whose care they were charged for those hours before and after school.
The bond developed with our school bus family goes as deep as any that I can recall from my early school days. We didn’t all hang out together during the school day because we were in different grades, but it was different on the bus.
If, during those awkward seventh- and eighth-grade years, I felt miserable at school because I was popular yesterday and not popular today, I knew my school bus family would not see me differently. They did not judge me on my level of acceptance at school.
They did not care if I was picked last on the softball team, or if I had been voted by my classmates as queen candidate for the Penny Carnival. I was “just Cyndi” to them.
There was the girl who always tried to sneak a smoke in the back of the bus and the girl who sang Mac Davis songs in a gravelly voice and with such passion that we would beg for more. Rich or poor, we did not care. We were all country kids.
I always wave at school bus drivers when I meet them on the highway. I know there are a handful of drivers out there who probably shouldn’t be charged with such an awesome responsibility for one reason or another, but I believe the majority of those driving those faded yellow buses are made of the same stuff as Bud, Betsy and Albert.
The pay probably isn’t very good, but the potential influence and impact that a bus driver has on a child’s life, well, that is priceless.
Cyndi Young-Puyear is farm director and operations manager for Brownfield Network.