When my father was growing up on a homestead a mere five miles from where I live today, there was no such thing as school buses. A one room school house served the students from approximately a five mile radius. The ones who lived close enough walked. Others rode horses that spent the day munching hay in the school barn while their young riders learned their ABC’s. My father lived just over a mile away so he travelled to school by foot along with his older sister. The pair often broke trail pushing their way uphill through waist deep snow. Like so many of his generation, Dad loves to say in his day he walked to school uphill … both ways. The school taught grades one through eight; if students wanted an education beyond that they had to board in town.
When I started school I had to walk a mile as well but I only had to walk in one direction. We lived in the bottom of a valley and the road ran out when it got to our house. In the morning our parents drove us to the top of the hill to catch the school bus. In the afternoons we walked home. Telling my children that when I was a kid I walked home from school one way, downhill, doesn’t carry the same bite as my father’s version. Worse, by the time I was in grade three a road had been built past our house and from then on the bus picked me up at the end of our driveway. There aren’t a lot of bragging rights in that.
I attended the same school in the same building my father did—the same building my mother later taught in — only by the time I attended it had been moved a few miles north and had a second room built onto it. When we got to grade seven we had the luxury of being bussed into town and back, no longer having to board in town to further our education.
The 20-minute drive to town took over an hour by bus depending on who was riding. There was always that one kid who lived further from the rest and added 15 minutes to the run, through no fault of their own.
Some years that kid was me. Most kids hated having to get up so early or home so late, but not me. I loved my time on the bus.
It was free time to socialize, read or daydream or sometimes to catch up on homework. There was a hierarchy to the seating plan. You started off in grade one sitting behind the driver and by grade twelve you were in the backseat. In hindsight I’m not sure why we coveted the backseats. The only benefit was the frost heaves in the spring and some might have argued that was a curse inste ad of a blessing. It is hard to describe the excitement of frost heaves to someone who has never ridden a school bus. Rising out of the gravel roads like rural speed bumps, the bus and the students could gain some serious airtime as we sailed over them. Due to some scientific law of gravity which we never bothered to study, the further back you sat the higher you flew. Some drivers could be coerced into speeding up when approaching a bump, others not so much.
Buses don’t have seatbelts which is kind of bizarre when you think about it. Children who wouldn’t dream of getting into the family vehicle without buckling up are put into buses without a second thought. The theory is if there were ever an accident getting all the kids out of their seatbelts would pose a bigger risk than going without. Not to mention how they would seriously impede airtime over those frost heaves.
During my elementary years my bus driver was one of the students who had rode his horse to attend the original schoolhouse. In turn, this same popular driver drove my own sons to school and back. By that time the two room schoolhouse had been torn down and a new four room school had been built five miles north of us. It is still there today.
Kids who ride buses share a common bond. They know the terror of a mother screaming, “The bus is coming!” while they search for that missing textbook or lost mitten. They know how it feels to stand at the end of a driveway in the wicked cold for what feels like hours, waiting for a bus that is running late. And they know the sweetest sound of all; being woken by the words “Go ahead and sleep in. The school buses have been cancelled for today.”
But now the Dawson Creek school district is saying the service is too costly to continue and they’re thinking of cancelling school buses forever. This time those words aren’t so sweet.
Shannon McKinnon is a syndicated humour columnist from Northern BC. You can read past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.