A big yellow school bus belching hideous exhaust picked us up in front of our house every day for school for 12 years, elementary, middle and high school. It would drop us off there again every afternoon until high school, when it was decided by someone that we were of an age we could walk from what we called “the corner” – the intersection of our road and the next cross road to the North. It was about a 3/8 of a mile, no big deal. Our stretch of the road started on a rise at the corner and sloped gently downward as you headed south towards our house and the town line another quarter mile past. Before reaching us, it rose upward to a point where the Dimm family lived. That isn’t a description of their personality, it was, unfortunately, their actual surname. From there the road sloped steeply downward to the creek in front of the Jones Family home before rising up again to our house.
As a small child you would envy the independence and freedom given the high school age kids to walk home on their own even if just from the corner. It was all residential so there wasn’t a lot you could do between point a and point b. But it was a few minutes of quiet freedom when you weren’t under the control of the adults at school and on the bus and the adults at home. That was freedom. When I was in high school and one of the neighbors had a nippy little dog that would bark and growl at me for a part of the walk, I lost all that envy.
It was a tough road in the winter for something as large as a school bus. In the winter, one of the most important morning duties after brushing your teeth and getting dressed was to listen to WAKR radio for a report on the weather and whether or not there was any resulting potential for a delay or a full snow day. We took turns at this post near the radio. We were in a somewhat rural area and getting a school bus unstuck from a ditch was not an event anyone other than the children still on the bus would have felt excited about, so officials were fairly cautious and generally accurate.
I remember one day in particular that we were expecting snow and yet there was no snow day announced and no delay. The roads were clear so we went off to school as usual. Almost immediately after arriving at school, the heavy snow started to fall. Later in the morning it was decided that the storm that had come in with a vengeance warranted sending every one home early. That was the only time in my entire life that I can recall that happening. It was exciting beyond measure to pile onto the school bus not only with those from my elementary school but to find it already crowded with middle schoolers also. I was in first grade and felt very small amongst all these now loud and revved up kids. My three older brothers were also somewhere on the bus as well as neighbors and classmates.
It is approximately forty-five minutes on the bus as it winds through other neighborhoods stopping constantly to dispense children to their homes. They would erupt from the open doors like tic-tacs shaken from the tiny clear plastic candy container and roll around with as much direction and joy as candy pieces before running off into their yards to play. When the bus arrived at the corner where it would normally make a right turn and proceed towards our house, it just stopped. The bus driver looked up into that long mirror he used to keep an eye on us and said,
“I won’t be able to take the bus down this street. It’s not clear enough. Too dangerous. Those of you on these stops will have to get off and walk home from here.” He opened the door and we gathered our things to exit.
That seemed kind of exciting. To walk like the big kids did. To walk with the big kids. But the big kids, my brothers included, had longer legs and were already planning the snow fort they were going to build in the front yard, so they were off and running. I tried to keep up but they were pretty quick. I called and yelled to them,
“Hey, wait for me! Wait for me!”
They would slow for a few steps only and then their gait would quicken again.
“Hurry up! We wouldn’t need to wait if you would hurry.” They complained at me. Their logic was unquestionable.
At the Jones’ house next door, they decided to short cut up the drive way and across the field between our two houses. The drive was cleared but the path that we had worn over years of running back and forth between the houses was full of drifting snow, twice as deep as what we had been slogging through. I was exhausted as I started up the embankment to the now invisible path.
I attempted to walk in their steps but they were big steps and longer than my legs could manage. And I kept falling. I fell so many times I loss count. The first few times it made me angry with them.
“Why aren’t you waiting for me,” I whimpered to no one listening. “Meanies!”
After that they were gone and I was just scared. I panicked and it made me slip and slide and fall again and again. What was worse than falling was I hadn’t taken any gloves to school with me that day. Every time I fell, my hands were deep in the snow. It was cold and wet. My sleeves were full. Every time I fell, it was worse, colder than I could imagine feeling. At some point I started crying. That meant my nose was also running. What a mess!
My mother was waiting for me on the porch, coaxing me onward. What seemed like miles to me, wasn’t really all that far. She had a sweater wrapped around herself and took me inside and helped me get all my snowy clothing off, now melting and sticky wet. I couldn’t stop crying. It wasn’t about being left behind at this point. I couldn’t feel my hands and in my naturally dramatic manner, was upset that this meant impending amputation. They were completely numb, surely they would have to be cut off. What would I do? I wouldn’t be able to draw anymore! All my crayons would have to lay still in their box forever.
My mother took me into her bedroom and we sat on her bed. She wrapped me up in a blanket, but I was inconsolable about living a future life with no hands. She took both my frozen hands in hers and placed them up against her stomach, covering them with her own. She talked to me, but I have no idea what she said but I am sure it was cooing and soothing. It wasn’t long before the warmth of her stomach began to thaw out my tiny fingers and the feeling began to return. What a relief!! I would color again!
Hot chocolate at the kitchen table helped continue the warm up. My hands were saved, my future artistic endeavors saved. I was warm as I never thought I would be again. My mother had given her warmth to me! We did not have a lot of close moments before or after that as she was always so busy, so those moments of closeness were a rare and cherished memory.
To this day when it gets very cold out, my hands cry out with pain inside as if they remember and it reminds me of that day. To this day I keep extra gloves everywhere.