Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 12, 2004

Here comes the cheese box!

On school days, I can set my watch by the time the girls' school bus stops to pick them up. I even recognize its sound as it passes our house headed east to the start of the route. If I'm standing at the kitchen sink, I can see its yellow top passing by on the highway below.

"The school bus just went by," I yell at the girls. "Hope you're about ready!"

Although there are many mornings now when Mariya drives, there are still times when she and Katie ride the bus. I breathe a sigh of relief when they ride on foggy or snowy mornings. The bus's flashing bright lights can be seen a lot farther than the ones on Mariya's small car.

On her first day of kindergarten, Mariya's little chin quivered as she saw the big yellow bus pull up. The driver opened the door and gently said, "Here, honey, you sit right behind me." The top of Mariya's head was barely visible through the windows. I had to take a deep breath when she waved at me as the bus moved away. My chin probably quivered, too.

It was a different driver who said the same thing on Katie's first day of kindergarten, but the rest was the same.

I'm sure I have an affinity for buses and their drivers because Dad drove a school bus for 12 years when I was growing up. He liked to tell the story of my first day of school. When we arrived, all the other kids got off the bus, but I just sat there. He looked at me in the rear view mirror and gently told me it was time to go into the building.

"Uh, uh," I said.

He gently took my hand and led me to my classroom.

Dad was known as "Twinkle Toes" among the students who rode his bus. He earned the nickname because he took curves slowly and used more time to get up to speed than the students thought necessary.

My favorite school-bus trip was the one just our family took when I was about 9. At that time, instead of the school district owning the buses, the individual drivers did. We rode the train to Lima, Ohio and picked up a new Bluebird and headed for home. What an adventure that was! We three kids tried to sleep stretched across the back seats, but bounced off whenever we hit a bump.

We stopped in St. Louis to see its famous zoo. I think I still have the miniature set of elephants Mom and Dad bought me, but what I remember best is getting lost. We ended up in a very run-down neighborhood, and I can testify that there is nothing like being in a big yellow bus to draw attention!

I often wondered how Dad and the other drivers had the patience to take kids to and from school day after day. I remember the whining, the quarreling, and the singing at the top of our lungs. I wonder the same thing now. Although there are certain rules students must follow when riding the bus, it is still more bedlam than I could handle.

Art told me that years ago in Wisconsin soft cheese was sold in long rectangular boxes and that if four wheels were attached to one of those boxes, it would look like a miniature school bus. So whenever he sees a school bus pass by, he thinks of those cheese boxes. And I suppose now that he's put that idea in my head, I think of buses that way as well. But I have additional memories - memories of Dad heading down the lane with his bus and my girls getting on their bus each day. To me, the sight of a rolling cheese box is a comforting one.

Bus drivers line up outside Riley County Grade School in 2000.

Left, my first day of school in 1959. Big brother Dave was experienced at riding Dad�s bus. Little sis Gaila wasn�t sure she wanted me to go! Right, Dad drove the family to Marion County Lake as part of the celebration of his parent's golden wedding anniversary.

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