Yesterday, on my commute home from work, I ended up behind a school bus full of rowdy kids. They were standing in the aisles, laughing and yelling and bouncing around and wow did it take me back to my own childhood, when I rode the bus two hours a day to and from school. Two hours a day on a smelly yellow school bus filled with flying spitballs and shouting and the occasional puker. For awhile, we had ‘fun’ drivers, who would let us do flips in the aisle, laughing at us in the mirror and tapping the brakes to make us fall. (Can you imagine a bus driver doing this today?) Sometimes we’d sleep, sometimes we’d do homework, but mostly we talked and threw things and played with Rubik’s cubes and stuck chewed gum under the seats.
One of the ‘fun’ drivers, Rudy, I remember vividly. A kind, cheerful man in his late fifties, Rudy handed out candy to every one of his passengers on the last day of school before Christmas break, and seemed to genuinely care about us. It was Rudy who asked me why I was so sad the morning I boarded the bus just minutes after discovering my pet rabbits killed on the front lawn by the neighbor’s dog. It was Rudy whose beloved wife was diagnosed with aggressive, terminal cancer, and it was Rudy who shot that beloved, dying wife before turning the gun on himself.
I can’t remember algebraic equations, the names of certain relatives, or even what I had for lunch yesterday, yet I remember a horrible murder-suicide involving a bus driver from my youth like it happened yesterday.
Okay, so what do all of my weirdo school-bus memories have to do with writing or reading? Well, I spent two hours a day on the bus. Two stinkin’ hours! To pass the time, I read. A lot. I have very fond memories of certain books from my childhood: books mailed to me from beloved grandparents (a collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, Misty of Chincoteague Island), books inherited from my mother (leather-bound copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Hobbit), books picked up at yard sales (a complete box-set of Judy Blume novels), books purchased through the Weekly Reader book sale (Sweet Valley High, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, The Babysitters’ Club, Little House in the Big Woods), books I’d check out again and again from the Bookmobile (Wild Violets, Where the Red Fern Grows) and books of unknown origin that are still nestled on bookshelves at my parents’ house so I can read them to my nephew today: Miss Twiggley’s Tree, Corduroy, Bunnicula, The Berenstain Bears …
Though I hated it at the time, I’m glad I had those two hours on the bus every day for years and years—without that dedicated daily reading time, I wonder if I’d have the love of books I have today.
What childhood books still hold a treasured place on your shelf? What books from your youth made you a reader or writer?