Friday, January 25, 2013


Back in the late ‘50s, I was in elementary school.  Our bus stop was at the intersection of Meadow Lane and Mosquito road, our bus was old number 3, and our bus driver was Mr. Vanalstien.  On the south side of the intersection was a home with a brick and daffodil lined circle drive.  It was a tight circle, and the arriving school bus generally careened around it at a pretty good clip.  We children awaited the bus under a large, spreading oak, and at the base of the oak was our bench.  I’d built the very basic bench myself by sawing two six inch cuts off an eight foot long 1” by 12”, and nailing them to the remaining board about one foot from each end.  In doing so I’d created, quite unintentionally, a state of the art catapult.  On the morning in question, half a dozen of our neighborhood gang were milling around innocently in expectation of the arrival of old #3, which was running uncharacteristically late.  My lunch bag, containing a banana, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and some graham crackers, was placed on the far end of the bench for easy retrieval upon the bus’s arrival.  At the sudden sound of squalling tires in the gravel, we kids scrambled to collect our gear and form a line.  Unbeknownst to us, Mr. Vanalstein was ill, and our driver today was a substitute and entirely unfamiliar with our route.  Approaching our circle drive wide and hot, the bus’s front tire unexpectedly clipped the edge of our bench.  My lunch was launched like a rocket, scattering and sifting its contents as its orbit took it up through the oak canopy and well into the hemisphere, before it descended amid the squeals of delighted children, in the form of an aromatic shower of graham cracker crumbs, peanut butter clumps, and a fine spray of grape jelly and banana cream.  The large, flat surface of the 1” by 12” proceeded to smack the side of the bus, at mach speed and with incredible force, resulting in a resounding clap of thunder, much like a full-fledged sonic boom, and ringing the entire school bus like a bell!  As the horrorstricken driver hesitantly opened the door, his eyes were wide as fruit jar lids and I’m confident he’d soiled himself.  The vast majority of the bus’s occupants burst simultaneously into a mixed chorus of inconsolable sobbing and hysterical and convulsive laughter, which continued fitfully until we arrived some fifteen minutes later at our school.  And I’m quite confident that many of those children remember and celebrate that event to this very day, and that others are on the mend and receiving counseling. SC

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