Monday, September 16, 2013

The Yellow School Bus—Social Media with a Whiff of Gravel Dust and Exhaust Fumes

In second or third grade, the teacher asked us to raise our hands if we lived on a farm. Of the 25 or so students, just three were “townies.” The rest of us left cows, corn wagons, and the farm dog behind each morning as we hopped on a yellow bus for the dusty ride to school. The trip could be chaotic. Kids shouted, wrestled for the best seats, and picked on others.

During our grade school years, my two brothers and I would walk up the quarter mile lane to our grandparents’ house and wait for the bus there. We must have been early one winter day, because Grandpa took us out in the yard to show us how to trap rabbits. He pointed out some tracks in the snow and then positioned a box with a stick propping it up. “This carrot is the bait,” he said. “The rabbit will enter the box to eat, but he’ll knock the stick over and get trapped.”

When we arrived home, we checked the trap and sure enough, there was a dead rabbit in the box. We were too young to notice that the rabbit was stiff and frozen, with that day-old-dead look about it. Our version of the story made for lively bragging at show-and-tell the next day.

Our bus had no air conditioning or seat belts—and judging by the way we bounced around, it had no suspension or shocks either. The ambience consisted of noise, exhaust fumes, and constant stop-and-go movements, so it’s no wonder some of us suffered from motion sickness. In hot weather, we’d stick to the seats; in winter, we’d be stuck in a snow drift until a farmer with a tractor pulled up.
We didn’t have digital devices to occupy our time, and frankly, you didn’t want to be looking down anyway—you could get hit with a spit wad, someone’s stocking cap, or maybe a flying apple core. Some kids were picked on. We didn’t call it bullying then, but the ride must have been long for shy kids or anyone who made an enemy of the guys in the back—the ones cool enough to wear blue jeans and use Brylcreem in their hair. Their motto wasn’t “A Little Dab’ll Do Ya.” It was more like “Shut up, or a little jab in the arm’ll do ya.” But most of the time, it was a civilized crowd. Many of us were family, and in a way, the farming community had a close-knit feel about it.
One day an older boy boarded the bus carrying a paper bag. He and his numerous siblings lived in a rundown farmhouse at the far edge of the county—a place that seemed to have no trees and several mangy dogs prowling the yard. The boy sat in the back—his priority seat—and then pulled a snake out of the bag. It wasn’t poisonous or all that big, but we little kids were entertained. Our local snake charmer had the animal in a tight grip—maybe too tight. By the time we reached town, the snake had excreted a pasty brown liquid onto the boy’s jeans. Staring up at twenty-some goofy looking kids must have scared the stuffings out of the poor thing.

Mom and Dad aren’t too impressed with my memories of riding the gravel roads by bus since they both went to one-room schools. “We walked to school,” Dad says. “But my farm was only a half-mile from the building. Some kids had to trudge along for two miles, and a few rode horses. We had coal for heat, two electric bulbs for lighting, and a well across the road to bucket our water.” Some things were similar, though. Dad says kids occasionally brought snakes, frogs, and sparrows into the room for a little excitement.

The buses in our part of the country are still yellow, but they make fewer stops. Farms are larger, old wooden houses are now cornfields, and not so many kids wait at the top of the lane with Lone Ranger lunch boxes in hand and playful dogs by their sides. Maybe modern-day students should have an app on their smartphones so they can get a taste of the old time ride—it would come equipped with the noise of grinding gears and chattering kids; the smell of gravel dust and carbon monoxide; and a message that says “turn this off, look up, play, wrestle, laugh, argue, and try a little face-to-face social media.”

 (by dan gogerty; photo from

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