By Tim Hayes

Driving out of our cul-de-sac the other morning, I spied a cluster of little kids, backpacks slung, faces eager and a little anxious, surrounded by moms looking every bit as nervous and excited.

It’s been a few years since our little neighborhood has had that many young children, so the corner bus stop hasn’t seen as much action for quite some time. But it sure was a treat to have the old spot back in business again.

Our kids have all graduated from college and are in the throes of their early careers, but that corner marked the start of thousands of school days for them, once upon a time. Some of what went on there came flooding back to my mind as I waved to the current crop of neighborhood students the other day.

Like the time I stood at the foot of my driveway, two doors down from the corner, where my two daughters relegated me in a compromise Dad-needs-to-keep-an-eye-on-you agreement. As I watched my girls, two sisters from another family up the street started yelling at each other, as sisters occasionally do.

My daughters started to back away from the mounting tension as their friends’ argument became more heated. Soon one pushed her sister, and got a shove in return that sent her sprawling to the grass. She sprang up and within seconds the two of them were both on the ground, fighting, slapping, rolling around, punching each other – just as the school bus arrived.

The Hayes girls climbed aboard the bus, while the other two kept up the earthbound sibling action. After a few seconds, the driver closed the door and motored to the next stop. When the two scrappers finally fought to a draw, they looked around and realized they’d missed their ride to school. Then they had to make the Walk of Shame back to their house for a ride.

And the best part of that story? Their dad was a teacher in our school district. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall THAT evening!

Our house sits behind the high school, so our kids could walk there easily with their friends once they reached ninth grade. When the girls attended high school, our son, the youngest, still had to take the long ride to the middle school. By that time, he was the only school-age kid on the cul-de-sac, so he and I would wait for his bus together.

To pass the time, we invented a baseball game using little rocks found along the berm of the road. If you kicked it near the double yellow line, it was a single. A rock landing on the double line was a double, past it was a triple, and a home run was just reaching the far white line without going over, which was an out. Any rock that a car ran over after one of us kicked it was an automatic grand slam. We never kept records, but hundreds of games must have been played there.

We’d make up names and quotes for drivers who passed us every morning, cracking each other up in the process. By the time the bus arrived, he had put me in a happy mood, and I think I did the same for him. Which is so important during those interminable, insufferable, awkward, finding-your-way middle school years.

Going back even further, though, came the most epic bus stop story of them all.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck. We never got the full hurricane here, but the rains pummeled this region mercilessly and relentlessly for most of a day. By the time people realized the extent of the flooding and the damage to trees, power lines, and roadways, it became too late for adults to get home safely from work.

My wife taught at a school about 30 minutes away, but the Pennsylvania Turnpike – her most direct route home – had been partially closed due to mudslides, so she was trapped up there for hours. I had crawled homeward from Downtown in gridlocked traffic, but could not get past a flooded low-lying creek, blocking the final four miles to our front door. Even my in-laws, who lived close by, could not make it to our place to watch for the kids, due to huge trees blocking all of the routes.

Worse, whatever primitive cell phone service existed then had been completely knocked out. I tried calling the house from a pay phone at a supermarket, but got no answer. My mother-in-law became frantic, also getting no response when calling our home. Where were our kids? Were they being kept at school? Were they on a school bus being impeded by rising water somewhere? Terrifying stuff for a parent.

Here’s what had happened, as we discovered much later that evening, when we all had finally made it home.

Our two girls attended the middle school at that time and made it home, albeit much later than usual. After the middle school kids were dropped off each day, the buses then picked up kids at the elementary schools. Those were the final runs of the day. And that’s the bus their little brother would be riding.

So what did those wonderful girls of ours do? Worried about their brother, they grabbed their umbrellas and jackets, marched through ankle-deep water – that was still coming down in absolute sheets – up to that corner bus stop, and waited until his bus made it. It pulled up more than 90 minutes late, but those two sisters stayed right there, taking it upon themselves to make sure he was on that bus and that he would make it home safely. That’s why no one answered the phone inside the house all that while – they were outside getting drenched for an hour-and-a-half.

When we heard them tell their story, the emotions whirled around my mind and heart like a kaleidoscope on steroids. Pride, love, concern, disbelief, amazement. To do something that noble, that responsible, showing that level of protection and sacrifice for your kid brother – while being a couple of middle school kids yourself? It sure beat getting into a fistfight rolling on the ground with your sister, that’s for sure.

So, as you see kids everywhere starting another year of waiting for their school buses, know that they’re amassing stories and experiences that their parents will remember for years to come. Life lessons begin long before and last long after a child sits in a classroom. They start at the bus stop.

Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes