It is back to school time, and the first way that I can tell is the lurching-yellow-behemoth school buses that have returned to the highways. School districts may deliberate to get the best educators, but it seems that they draw names out of a hat with names of paroled felons to find the people who will drive their kids to school and back. The bus no longer stops at a “bus stop” but instead will pause every 50 yards, allowing each child to embark from his or her yard. Sometimes the kid isn’t even in the yard, they are in the house and will walk out when the bus approaches. Usually the youngster is wearing a backpack that would cripple a Sherpa, and they take their own sweet time getting to the bus.
There were bus stops when I was a student, way back in the 1900’s. Our parents kicked us out the door and we had to fend for ourselves in the complex social hierarchy that happens when you have 25 kids representing various ages between first and sixth grade. I say various ages, because kids still flunked back then. They might be polite and say “He was left behind,” as if the rapture just happened, but it still meant that you had to repeat a grade. When I was in fourth grade, one of our bus stop bullies was a fifth grader with a mustache. I said goodbye to him on my last day of elementary school, and I went to 7th grade the next year. He was going to do sixth grade again. The high school was for grades 7-12 and was only a couple miles from my house, so we had to walk, which was fine with me. Anyway, in fourth grade our bus driver was named Joan, and she would open the door of the bus with a cigarette balanced on her lip as a wall of smoke, which emanated from the blue haze around her bee hive hair-do, rolled out the door and gave the appearance that the large vehicle had some sort of mechanical problem. “Get in!” she yelled. The last kid in line had to be quick, as she slammed the door on their heels and veered off like the last helicopter out of Vietnam.
My fondest memories of school are when I was 16. My high school only took attendance at home room. Then, they sent a freshly mimeographed (remember the smell?) sheet of paper that contained the names of all the absent students, separated by grade, and listed alphabetically. 16 is the age when you can legally hunt by yourself, so I would occasionally play hooky in the fall. After the bell rang which denoted the start of first period, I would slip out the door, into the tree line, and walk a couple miles to my house. I didn’t do it all the time—maybe twice in the entire small game season. The stars had to align, you see. First, it had to be a gorgeous, crisp autumn day. Secondly, it had to be on a day that my father was working 7-3 at the factory so he wouldn’t catch me. If he was working 3-11 or 11-7 I couldn’t get away with my plan. Lastly, it had to be a day when I knew my mother was gone all day helping my grandmother and would not catch me on my hunting transgression.
I would rush home, don hunting clothes, grab the gun, leash the beagles, and walk over the hill to a hunting spot. The whole trick was to get home before 3:00 in the afternoon. That is when my younger sister would be getting home from school, and also when dad would be returning from work. I planned to always get in at 2:00, put the dogs in the kennel, butcher rabbits and put them in the “meat freezer” and change back into my school clothes. I would then go for a walk around the block and return at the appropriate time to give the impression that I had been in school all day. Since I was marked as “present” in home room, I didn’t need to generate a written excuse the next day to explain my absence.
I am not sure what it says about me that I waited until I was 16 and could legally hunt alone, without a parent supervising, before I did this. Clearly, I was breaking some law (or rule, at least) by skipping school. Thank goodness I never got caught and had my permanent record tainted by these sins. It has been nearly three decades since I was 16 years old, but I still plan a few hooky days each year. All I have to do is feel a cool breeze on the way to my office, look out the window, and see those leaves changing color. Then I look at my calendar and see if it is a day when an escape is possible. If only my wife’s schedule could be predicted as well as a guy that changed shifts every week like my dad did. Oh well, I can text her and find out when she is not home, and then make my escape.
~ Bob Ford