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KAREN SCHWALLER

By Staff | Nov 9, 2012

There isn’t much that can invoke more fear and sadness in a new parent than the school bus coming down the road to pick up their child on that first day of kindergarten.

It’s a rite of passage for children and parents equally.

The bus stopping at the end of the driveway was a vision that my parents had for almost 30 years, with a whole brood of kids to get though school.

It was a vision that we saw here for only a dozen or so years by the time our kids started driving to school because of volleyball and wrestling practices.

Every morning without fail I would watch our kids cross the road toward the bright sun coming up in the eastern sky and see them get on the bus.

Whatever the spell was, I never grew tired of watching them get on the bus, wondering what the day would hold for them.

Even early on, it saddened me a little knowing that those days would someday come to an end. It would be yet another rite of passage.

When I was growing up and started out my education at the Catholic school in Kingsley, we were guided to and from school each day by our parish priests, who doubled as the bus drivers.

The Catholic school bus had certain rules – when we got to the city limits, there was to be complete silence on the bus until we got inside the school building. We all just knew it, and when we neared town, the bus filled with noisy country children fell silent.

Imagine that today.

But the other rule we had to follow was at the end of the day when we all boarded the bus to go home again.

Our school went to the eighth-grade, so one of the “older kids” on the bus had to start and lead the rosary, which the entire busload of children had to recite everyday.

We learned that prayer young in those days, if only because of daily repetition.

I hope it wasn’t because of the driving record of our bus drivers that we had to pray as we rode home each day.

If you were a Schroeder kid, as my siblings and I were, you either longed to live in town so you didn’t have to do that or you longed to get off of the bus first.

But if you lived where we did, a gazillion miles from civilization in any direction, you were among the first ones on and the last ones off.

The Schroeder kids never got out of saying the rosary in its entirety every day.

You might know.

It was a change of pace when we started at the public school once our Catholic school closed after the 1971-1972 school year.

We didn’t know anyone in Remsen, so stepping on the school bus that first time was a little scary for me as a sixth-grader, climbing up the steps and looking into a bus filled with strangers’ faces.

But the good thing was that we didn’t have to be silent as we neared town (or as we neared our middle school at the time which was in the country), and we didn’t have to say the rosary aloud on the way home.

We thought we’d all died and went to heaven. Looking back now, what a great prayer experience that was for us as growing children.

But in either scenario, the first person we saw was the bus driver. The bus driver is someone that is hugely taken for granted, I believe.

For the child, the bus driver is the first representative of the school they see in the morning, and the last representative of the school they see at the end of the day.

Bus drivers live with a cut-up schedule all week, needing to be at the school by 3 in the afternoon, and often times, carving out evening and weekend time for the kids as well.

The bus driver carries out an important task, and not always under the best of circumstances when you think about roads during Midwest winters, or even because the nature of some kids today.

Bus drivers are responsible for cargo for which parents would give their very lives. For parents, it’s a matter of handing over the safety and well-being of their children to the person behind the steering wheel of the school bus. And often times, they don’t even know that person.

It’s huge.

They’re the disciplinarian on board, and sometimes the sounding board for those who would dare to befriend the man or woman behind the steering wheel.

Bus drivers often know much about what goes on in the life of the farm family, since toward the end of the route after school, they are the one “left” to talk to.

Bus drivers do a lot of listening.

And maybe they’re glad for that, if it means they don’t have to pray the rosary with the kids everyday. I’m sure a bus driver thought up that rule.

Priest or not.

Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at kschwaller@evertek.net.

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