The Long Road to School

Photo from Flickr
When I was a teenager on the farm, we started every day with a “good” breakfast.  It usually involved cereal, almost always corn flakes, and toast, along with milk for me and coffee for Mother and Daddy.  On the weekends Mother was more apt to fry eggs and bacon and bake biscuits, but she certainly didn’t do that every morning.  Daddy and I ate breakfast and then went our separate ways, he to drive to work (or drive a schoolbus, as he did in later years) and me up the long gravel driveway to catch the school bus.

In the winter I remember standing up at the road in the dark, waiting for the yellow school bus to appear shortly after 7 a.m.  I had my lunch in a paper bag, my books under my arm, and a coat wrapped around me.  Bear in mind that girls were not allowed to wear pants to school until I was a senior in high school, so picture me shivering in knee socks and loafers, waiting for the bus.

The farm was 17 miles outside of town and about 20 miles from my junior high school and high school.  But the ride to school took well over an hour.  The bus crawled along winding country roads, stopping frequently where there were clusters of houses, then speeding up a bit in the lonely spaces between farms.  Some of my cousins rode the bus, but most of the other riders were kids I didn’t know well.

The bus had hard, dark green vinyl-cushioned bench seats with a curved metal bar on the top of each seat, so you could hold on when the driver took a curve a little too fast or if you wanted to stand up and talk to someone.  This would invariably cause the driver–generally male and grumpy–to shout, “Y’all sit down right now!”

During the winter the sun would come up in the course of the ride.  If the clouds were thin I could see the sunrise through the scrubby trees and bushes along the side of the road as we roared past.  Red skies at morning, sailors take warning—a pink sunrise was considered a sure sign of rain or sleet to come.

The bus ride to school was usually quiet, since all of the teenagers wished they were still at home in bed.  Some of them slept all the way, while others gossiped or tried to finish homework.  I often sat with my cousin Judy.  During those long rides we didn’t talk much.

I watched the countryside flashing past and daydreamed.  I don’t remember what I dreamed about.  But I was convinced this was just the beginning of the road for me.  I had no idea how long the road would be or where I was going.  Even as I absorbed the stark beauty of a winter sunrise,  I knew I was going somewhere, some day, out of the hills and hollers.

Father’s Day Special II: The Right Way to Do Things

Ford Tractor, Like Daddy’s

My daddy was a man who considered there was a right way to do anything, whether it was repairing a car engine or eating cornflakes.  He was not dictatorial or oppressive in any way.  Daddy just knew what he considered right, and he demonstrated how to do things, expecting you to follow his example.

When my nephew Jarrett was quite small, my sister Juanita and her family stayed on the farm with my parents for several weeks while they were in the process of moving to Kentucky.  Jarrett and his brother Mason followed Daddy around and absorbed his every utterance, but Jarrett was particularly impressionable.

Years later I met him and his fiancee for lunch in Manhattan and listened to Jarrett explain to her the proper way to eat cornflakes.  “Granddaddy showed me, ” he said.  “You pour the flakes in a bowl, then you crush them with your hands, like this”–he demonstrated.   ‘Then you put sugar on top, and finally you pour the milk on.”  He then moved on to the proper methodology for having molasses and biscuits.  “You have to put the butter on the plate, then pour the sorghum molasses on it.  You whip it up with your knife.  Then you split your biscuit, and spread it on the biscuit.”

Daddy’s lessons weren’t always absorbed.  He tried to teach my brother to work on a car engine, but Gil preferred to bounce a tennis ball off the side of the house.  He never managed to teach Mother to drive, because she would get nervous, he would get gruff, she would dissolve in tears, and the lesson ended.  Consequently she was dependent on other people for transportation her entire life.

But some of the lessons did sink in.  He taught me to change a tire after I had two flats in one week.  I had to jump on the crowbar to loosen the lug nuts, but I could do it.  It stood me in good stead for many years.

Daddy died of a heart attack when I was 22 years old.  I miss him to this day.  Happy Father’s Day to dads everywhere.  Your daughters love you.