It was 1963, which would have made me a sprightly 4 year old if it was September, and September it surely was. I had 3 older siblings who all disappeared during the day to some mystery place and came home in the late afternoon with armloads of books and promptly vanished again, to sit late into the night and scribble in vast notebooks.
I had an inking of their doings during the day. They’d drop hints of it, amused and superior, hints of big kids and tests and Latin, often huddling in hushed conference about things not fit for a 4 year old.
But come 1963, when Mother drew me aside and described getting on yellow buses and the wearing of new shoes I knew that some new veil was to be pierced, here. “I’ll be here to put you on the bus in the morning, but you must look for bus number 7 in the afternoon. If you see bus number 7 you get on it, hear?”, and she impressed that on me to the point that I can remember the bus number, its shape and smell to this very day. Number 7 indeed. I was the first to board that afternoon, ducking under a teachers arm in a panic to not miss it, to the amusement of a large woman driver in gray wool.
School and I got along very well. It was kindergarten to be sure, but the things to do were familiar. Listening to stories, painting parchment abstracts and cutting them up with blunt scissors. Naps taken on a bathmat brought from home which were naps in name only - I don’t think a one of us actually ever fell asleep.
But it was the ride in every morning, because in that day every bus stop had a mother who not only stayed at home but made the walk across the road to confer with others like her, and load small versions of themselves onto the bus. But down the road was the stop we all came to dread, for nearly an entire year.
Timmy was smaller than most, even at 4. A wisp in greatcoat and hood and mittens, and his mother too, slight of build and bundled well. The bus would ease to a stop and the airbrakes would hiss, the door slap open and Timmy would already be into his routine. For despite the fact that this happened 5 days a week with acute regularity, Timmy didn’t want to go.
He’d be clinging to his Mom, arms wrapped around legs and face burrowed into her coat, fearing to so much as glance at the yellow monster stopping in front of them. The mother would stoop and begin the attempt at unraveling small arms, in a low and not unkind tone speaking good things and nodding her head. And slowly, eventually, Timmy would kiss her cheek and shuffle onto the bus, easing fearfully into the first available seat closest to a view of his Mom. I’d typically get just a glance at his face, nearly always in tears, and in that day tears brought a hush to a half filled bus of 4 year olds. The girls would coo and feel badly for him and if anything was said by the more husky boys they’d be shamed into silence in a hurry.
It truly was a gentler time, when the Timmy’s of the world could be left alone and pitied, or someone would take his hand at school and speak a word to comfort. But it was a caring for naught, and the next morning would bring the same scene, the same delay at Timmy’s bus stop, the same dread and tears.
I tried hard to remember what became of it all, seems a stretch to think that this went on for a full school year but I don’t recall any other beginning to the day for Timmy. He just . . . didn’t want to go. He always did go. But there was no good thing in it, for him.
I guess he must have appeared in one of my dreams last night, shuffling along the aisle of whatever yellow bus I happened to be riding at the time. And reminding me, some four decades hence, and grown to the size of a half dozen Timmy’s that there are times of a morning that you just don’t want to go. Maybe every morning, you just don’t want to go.
But I always do go. Mom makes sure of it.
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