Outside the schoolroom window, the snow had changed; now dusting the old, dirty snow with a new white coat, then to dropping great flakes, covering the teeter totter and making the swings look like they had small lumpy children sitting on the seats. Then the wind started blowing so hard that the snow came straight at the window next to where I sat.
“Children,' instructed the teacher, in a high anxious voice, “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,”.
I 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,” I thought to myself.
“Row one. 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 two.” Then row three, and finally she called row four, my row of tables. I put on put on my new coat momma had made as Christmas present for me, then tugged and pulled on the ugly rubber galoshes that she insisted I wear. Only then did I pick up the little suitcase that carried my new Christmas doll, with all the little clothes that momma had made, and the little quilt that Grandma had made. I carefully checked the latch to make sure it was secure before I returned to my seat.
Even though it was too early to go home, our teacher led all of my class out into the hall, through the front door and out to the line of buses. I found a seat next to the window near the back of the bus because I was nearly the last one off of the bus after school. It was important to get a window seat before the big kids got on the bus because they always pushed us younger ones around. I hugged the little suitcase close to my chest as the bus filled up, and the bigger kids jostled around for good seats. Finally, all were aboard and we left the school and began the long road home. I thought to myself, “Maybe when some of the kids got off and the bus isn’t so full, I can get my new doll out and dress her in a different outfit.”
The kids who lived along the highway got off first. Didn’t seem fair, as they were the last ones to get on in the morning but the first ones to get off after school. It was nearly dark when I got on the bus in the morning, and getting dark when I got off at night. The Dixon kids got off, then the Simons, Flemmings, Browns, and the Dehlingers. Now the bus turned up hill, following its route onto the dirt road that followed the foot of Stukel Mountain. The 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 as they came to 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 south hill road, past Tollivers, then the past the house of the new family that had moved into down by the railroad 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 would not budge. The bus driver pulled on his heavy gloves, pulled down the earflaps of his red plaid cap and got out to try to dig the snow from around the wheels. The two or three older boys, who were still on the bus, jumped out to help the bus driver. Soon they all climbed back in the bus, as the snow was too much for their meager efforts.
“Okay,” directed the bus driver, the gruffness of his voice belied his fear, “I want all of you kids to sit close together to keep warm. Help should be on the way soon.”
The older boys and girls got the younger children together in the front of the bus. When the older boy tried to get me to sit with the other children, I just shook my head. “I am quite warm. I have my little doll blanket that my grandma made,” I said as I spread the blanket over my stockinged legs. “My coat is very warm. My momma made it for me.”
Unsure what to do with such resoluteness, the boy returned to the front of the bus with the other children. After a bit, he came back and again asked me to move up front with the rest of the children. I gave him a look, and then said, “No, I am waiting for my Daddy. He will come and get me.”
The boy shook his head and went to the front of the bus again. Some of the children 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 I sat in my seat by the window, my doll blanket tucked around my legs, and the little suitcase hugged tight as if there were warmth coming from it, waiting for Daddy to come and take me 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,” growled the bus driver, sounding as though he had ordered the help. “Now we will get some help getting out of here.”.
The big boys were cheering, and the younger children were still snuffling and crying.
“ I told you that my Daddy would for me,” I smugly told the boy who again tried to get me to come to the front of the bus.
When the rescuers arrived, the first one on the bus was my Daddy, that ruddy-faced Scotsman, snow covering the felt-brimmed hat he always wore. He strode to where I was sitting with my blanket and suitcase. “Daddy, I was waiting for you to come,” I whispered to him as he picked me up and carried me to his warm car.
Daddy, along with the other men, put all of the children in the warm car and pickups. Then he and the men from the ranch began digging the snow-covered bus out of the drift. Once it was free, the men left it along the side of the road until the county road crews cleared the roads. With their chained-tires gripping the heavy snow, the three children-ladened 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 Daddy drove into our yard. Momma, laughing with relief, came running out of the house -- coatless -- through the drifting snow to hug Daddy and me. 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.” Momma settled the children around the warm oil-stove with cups of steaming hot chocolate. She then began calling the parents of the children stranded at our house. Not a difficult task. When she called the first person, other worried neighbors picked up the phone on that old fashioned party line. Soon parents were 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, I held my baby sister and softly told her, “Daddy will always come through the snow to take you home.”
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© Joan Hill, Roots'n'Leaves Publications