My dad would have been 98 years old today, February 19th. Although his death, nearly six decades ago, left an ongoing emptiness in my life, I do have wonderful memories of my father. The following story , which did happen, reflects my childhood view of that “bigger than life” scotsman – my dad, my hero – then and now. All these years later, my sister reminded me that our Dad rescued the school bus several times when we were going to school. He had big caterpillar tractors with dozer blades that could cut through the biggest drifts and he was always ready to come to the rescue or lend a helping hand.
Happy Birthday, Daddy!
Outside the schoolroom window, the snow had changed from dusting the old, dirty snow with a new white coat, to great flakes of snow coming down, covering the teeter totter. The swings soon looked like they had small, lumpy children sitting on the seats. Now the wind picked up and blew the snow straight at the window next to where the little girl was sitting.
“Children, when I call your row number, I want you to get your coats and things from the back of the room and then return to your seats until every one is ready,” instructed the teacher, in a high anxious voice. The little girl knew something was wrong, even though the rest of the children seemed so excited with the change in activities. Second graders can be so dumb!
“Row 1. Hurry now.” The sounds of little chairs being scooted away from the tables and giggles at the coat rack seemed to annoy the teacher. “Hurry now, no talking.” The noise subsided as the children from row 1 returned to their little tables. “ Now row 2.” Then row 3, and finally , row 4 was called. The little girl put on her new coat that her Momma had made for her as a Christmas present. She pulled on her ugly rubber galoshes that her mother insisted that she wear. Then, she picked up the little suitcase that carried her new Christmas doll, with all the little clothes that Momma had made, and the Grandma's little handmade doll quilt. She checked the latch to make sure it was secure, and then returned to her seat.
Even though it was too early to go home, the teacher led them out into the hall, through the front door and out to the line of buses. The girl climbed up the bus steps and found a seat next to the window. She was glad she got a window seat before the big kids got on the bus because they always pushed the little kids around. She hugged the little suitcase close to her chest as the bus filled up with jostling kids. The school bus pulled out on to the highway and they began the long road home. The little girl fingered the suitcase, and thought to herself, “Maybe when some of the kids get off of the bus, I'll get my new doll out and dress her in the green dress with the white rickrack.”
The kids that lived along the highway got off first. Didn’t seem fair to her, as they were the last ones to get on in the morning but the first ones to get off after school. The Dixon kids got off, then the Simons, Flemmings, Browns, and the Dehlingers. Now the bus route turned up onto the dirt road that followed the foot of Stukel Mountain. Wind was blowing the white snow and engulfing the yellow bus. Drifts began to form on the less traveled road, as the bus trudged up the hill, letting children off at their homes along the road. Then up along the foot of the mountain, the drifts got deeper, but still the big yellow bus plunged through the drifts, depositing children in the knee-deep drifting snow in front of their homes.
Now up the hill road, past Tollivers, then the past the house of the new family that had moved into down by the RxR tracks, along the river. The snow got deeper and the drifts got higher as the bus ker-chunked and thumped it’s way through the growing snowdrifts. Then the bus came to a shuddering stop in a great snowdrift. The bus driver tried to go backwards, then forwards, then backwards, but the yellow bus did not budge. The bus driver pulled on his heavy gloves, pulled the earflaps of his cap down and got out to try to dig the bus out. The two or three big boys, who were still on the bus, jumped out of the bus, to help the bus driver. Soon they all got back in the bus, as the snow was too much for their meager efforts.
“Okay, I want all of you kids to sit close together to keep warm. Help should be on the way soon,” directed the bus driver, the gruffness of his voice belied his fear. The older boys and girls got the younger children together in the front of the bus. When one of the older boys tried to get the little girl to sit with the other children, she just shook her head. “I am quite warm, I have my doll blanket that my grandma made,” she said as she spread the blanket over her Stockinged legs. “My coat is quite warm. My Momma made it for me.”
Unsure what to do with the resolute child, the boy returned to the front of the bus with the other children. After a bit, he returned to the little girl and again tried to get her to move up front with the rest of the children. She looked up at him for a moment, and then said, “No, I am waiting for my Daddy. He will come and get me.”
The boy shook his head and went back to the front of the bus again. Some of the children in the front of the bus began to cry. Winter’s early darkness was coming on; the snow was still coming down in blowing swirls across the road; and the temperature in the bus continued to drop. Still the little girl sat in her seat by the window, her doll blanket tucked around her legs, and the little suitcase hugged tight as if there were warmth coming from it, waiting for her Daddy to come and take her home.
“I see lights coming behind us,” yelled one of the boys. The driver and older boys went to the back of the bus and peered out through the snowy frosty glass. There were lights coming. “Looks like two, no three sets of lights. Now we will get some help getting out of here,” growled the bus driver, sounding as though he had ordered the help. The big boys were cheering, and the younger children were still snuffling and crying. The little girl piped up, “My Daddy is coming, I told you he would come after me.”
As the rescuers arrived, the first one on the bus was the ruddy-faced Scotsman, snow covering the brimmed hat he always wore. He strode to where the little girl sat with her blanket, and suitcase. “Daddy, I was waiting for you to come,” she whispered to him as he picked her up and carried her to his warm car. The little girl’s Daddy, along with the other men, put all of the children in the warm car and pickups. Then he and the men began digging the snow from around the bus. Once the bus was out of the drift and along the side of the road, the driver left the bus until the county road crews cleared the roads. With their chained tires gripping the heavy snow, the three-children laden vehicles chunked through the snow, back down the hill, depositing children at their homes along the way. There were still several children in the car, when the little girl’s Daddy drove into their yard. Momma, laughing with relief, came running out of the house --- coatless --- through the drifting snow to hug the little girl and her Daddy. She then began helping the cold frightened children into the house. “Come in. Come in. Get those wet coats off. I have hot chocolate on the stove, just waiting for you --- all of you.” The little girl’s Momma got children settled around the warm oil-stove with cups of steaming hot chocolate. She then began to call the parents of the children stranded at their house. Not a difficult task, as when she called the first parent, other worried parents picked up the phone on that old fashioned party line. Soon there was a stream of parents, coming through the snow to pick up their children and take them home. The feeling of relief that the children were safe, made it seem like a party. Some stayed and had a cup of hot chocolate, talked about how deep the snow, how high the drifts.
Later that evening, the little girl held her baby sister and softly told her, “Daddy will always come through the snow to take you home and Momma will have hot chocolate waiting for you.”