After 20 years as a full-time wife and mother, I decided now that my kids were grown, I needed a part-time job to keep me busy. The question was: What exactly could I do?
Secretarial work was out-I couldn't take shorthand, and I typed at a snail's pace. I cooked for a husband and children, but that wasn't enough to prepare me for a job in any of the restaurants near my home in Kansas City, Mo. What was I qualified for?
The answer came one day as I drove past a lot full of school buses. I pulled over to the side of the road. That's it! I thought. I loved kids, plus I'd put plenty of miles on our family Chevy.
First I had to pass a written test for my chauffeur's license. Then I began driving practice. The bus was enormous. I could turn, shift, brake, accelerate, but I could not get the huge thing into reverse. When my husband asked how my training was going, I told him, "Fine, as long as no kid lives on a dead-end street."
Please, Lord, I prayed, help me drive the bus.
By the time school started that year I'd gotten the hang of it. I was happy in my new work. I became a combination chauffeur, nurse and friend. And if the kids needed it, I'd put on my "Tough Big Sister" act. It was a lot like my previous job-being a mom.
When I think about my years of bus driving, I remember the snowstorms that seemed to start on Thanksgiving and last through March. I remember Christmases when I was presented with hundreds of "I love you, Polly" cards. I remember hearing "Itsy-Bitsy Spider" sung over and over until I heard it in my sleep. Mostly, though, I remember Charlie.
The stolen tin heart...
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From that day on, Charlie was a trial. If a fight broke out I didn't have to turn my head to know who had started it. If someone was throwing spitballs I could guess the culprit's name. If a girl was crying, chances were Charlie had pulled her hair. No matter how I spoke to him, gently or firmly, he wouldn't say a word. He'd just stare at me with those big gray eyes of his.
I asked around some, and found out Charlie's father was dead and he didn't live with his mother. He deserves my patience, I thought. So I practiced every bit of patience I could muster. To my cheery "Good morning," he was silent. When I wished him a happy Halloween, he sneered. Many, many times I asked God how I could reach Charlie. "I'm at my wit's end," I'd say. Still I was sure that this child needed to feel some warmth from me. So, when he'd pass by, I'd ruffle his hair or pat him on the arm.
Toward the end of that year, the kids on my bus gave me a small trophy inscribed "To the Best Bus Driver Ever." I propped it up on the dashboard. On top I hung a small tin heart that a little girl had given me. In red paint she had written, "I love Polly and Polly loves me."
On the next-to-last day of school I was delayed a few minutes talking to the principal. When I got on the bus I realized that the tin heart was gone. "Does anyone know what happened to the little heart that was up here?" I asked. For once with 39 children, there was silence.
One boy piped up, "Charlie was the first one on the bus. I bet he took it."
Other children joined the chorus, "Yeah! Charlie did it! Search him!"
I asked Charlie, "Have you seen the heart?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," he protested. Standing up, he took a few pennies and a small ball out of his pockets. "See, I don't have it."