Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Riding Bussy's Bus: Jonesborough 1967

When we lived in Vancouver, Washington, I always walked to school. That school was a mere two blocks or so from home. But when we moved to Tennessee and rented that strange house in the strange town of Jonesborough, we had to take the bus. By 'we' I mean my two older brothers, myself and my sister--Youngest Brother was not in school yet. Now, we were sort of out in the country and many other students were definitely out in the country and came by bus to attend the town school in Jonesborough, so the bus would drive down all these rural roads and into these hollows before getting to the school. My brothers rode a different bus (maybe they went to a different school--I can't quite recall--because I never saw them in school) but I rode the same bus with Sister.
We were all in the throes of culture shock when we moved to Tennessee. Riding the bus did not help to alleviate that shock. First of all, our driver's name was Bussy. As I understood it, this was not some nickname, but his real name. He was an old grizzled man, small and slouchy with black glasses and grey unshaven cheeks. He had a sour personality. Bussy would play old time country music as he drove the bus around, picking up old time country kids. This wasn't the kind of country music you might think of when you hear the word, this was Opry/Gospel/Hillbilly country music. They were the kinds of songs that started slow and then got slower, sad lonesome songs with deep nasal-voiced male singers who would often stop singing and just talk the lyrics for a few refrains, sounding like they were on the verge of crying. God-Trucks-Dogs-and-Broken-Hearts kind of music. Sister and I were quite confused.
I rode next to my sister and I had many guys ask me if she was my girlfriend (perhaps to them, it was quite possible for a sister to be both [actually, that's an unfair comment]). When I told them she was my sister, they thought it was strange I would ride next to her.
There was a winter when, on the ride home, the bus could not make it up the hill from central Jonesborough because the road was slick. Bussy made us all get out and walk up the hill. He then was able to drive it up and pick us back up. I don't understand why this was--wouldn't the added weight of the children help the bus climb the slippery hill? Maybe it was a safety issue, in which case Bussy did the right thing. Bussy was probably an okay guy and did his job well, and only in my mind is he an odd character linked to the oddness I found in Tennessee.
I rode the bus some when we moved out of Jonesborough and began going to school at the Cherokee County School--but most of the time Mother drove us or we traded rides with a family. When we moved to Des Moines, Iowa in 1970, we again all walked to school. So, Bussy was the bus driver of my childhood .
I can recall one day at school in Jonesborough--the school itself was massive, old and run-down, maybe five stories high (at least this is how I remember it)--I was in class and got up to go sharpen my pencil. The sharpener was by the window, which was open, and as I cranked the handle I felt the spring breeze and looked out at the lay of the land: the budding trees, the hills and small buildings and homes, the winding roads. And there, off in the distance, I saw a school bus rolling along one of those hills, the bus a bright yellow, a pin-point of color and movement among the resurgence of spring foliage. That vision struck me as being somehow profound--for reasons I didn't understand--that rural landscape of contours and distance with the school bus drawing your eye was like a painting, a work of art. I didn't know why it brought a sense of pleasure to me, as I was only eleven years old at the time, it just did. It was a pretty sight and I can recall it to this day . . . And who knows, maybe it was Bussy's bus, and he was driving it along that ridge, listening to Little Jimmy Dickens or Hank Williams or someone so sad and obscure and lonesome that it made him cry.

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