Art ~ Writing ~ Life

From Handprints To Footprints

School Bus Filled with Memories

August 31, 2015
Steve Campbell

I became nostalgic of my childhood after my high school class held its 40th reunion in July (which I missed but saw pictures of on Facebook) and the school season began last week for most of the children living in my area, while others began the season today. As it was when I was a child, township, county, and state lines decide what school each child goes to, which can alienate neighborhood friends by sending them to different school districts. I had a next-door neighbor who went to a rival school because the district line separated our properties. We were best friends during the three months of summer, and then barely saw each other during the rest of the year. We both rode buses—the yellow ones with flashing amber and crimson lights on them—and we would wave at each other while standing in front of our homes at seven o’clock in the morning, waiting for our rides. This was during the 1960s, so we weren’t privileged to cell phones. If such a thing had existed back then, we would have talked to and texted each other, and kept one another abreast of our lives instead of waving from our designated places that seemed miles apart from each other along our country road.

If you were a child who rode a bus in from the country to school, you may have had to sit on the edge of a seat along the aisle because of overcrowding. I spent those days from first grade to third grade learning how to balance myself on the edge of a seat without falling. By fourth grade, another bus added to our school lessened the amount of students crammed inside my bus. When that happened, I discovered the comfort of sitting fully in a seat. The only discomfort I recall was having the back of my head attacked by straight pins older kids shot through drinking straws.

Riding the back seats of the bus was a privilege reserved for older students, and most of the country boys that usually occupied them were ornery and mean when they had to wear starchy school clothes and spend their days indoors instead of out. Hijinks from them abounded when the many stops at houses occupied the bus driver. Younger students learned early to safeguard their lunchboxes, lest they arrive at school with no food to eat.

I enjoyed school, so despite the straight pins and occasional wedgie, my morning rides on the bus were filled with delicious anticipation. I made many friends on my bus until my father moved us to town so he could be closer to his job. I missed riding the bus most of all.

School buses traveling on sticky, tarry roads have a unique sound. It’s a haunting music to my ears fifty years later, and I have awakened often to the raspy six o’clock sound of bus tires singing to me during August, September, and October when the bedroom windows are still open. They sing a siren’s song of bygone days that I wish I could relive, if only for a week of waving to my neighbor and best friend who died five years ago from cancer. Of sitting on the bus with school chums that have moved away to distant places. Of talking about the latest Johnny Quest cartoon with that girl who said she was a tomboy and proud of it. Of trading baseball cards and lunches with an older boy named Frank who was killed in Viet Nam. Of riding home with the windows down at 60 miles an hour on those hot days when going home was the best feeling in the world after a long day at school. To do that would be the greatest “blast from the past” in the world.

Months of Seasons

August 19, 2015
Steve Campbell

I looked at the wall calendar to see today’s date and saw how close we are to the end of another month. It seems like August began last week instead of three weeks ago. And it seems like June was a month ago instead of two. Time seems to fly past us unnoticed when we pay least attention to it.

Although August is one of our longest months, I had a schoolteacher who called it the February of summer. She divided the calendar in half and placed the first six months in a horizontal line across a wall, then placed the last six below them so there were two rows of months on the wall. The first row held winter and spring; the second held summer and autumn. This way, we students could compare and contrast the seasons.

Calendar

Using her illustration, the top row held dominance over the bottom row. July was the January of summer, August the February of summer, etc., on to ending with December as the June of autumn. It seemed strange referring to December as a part of autumn, but that’s the way she taught. After all, the winter solstice is usually December 21/22, which makes the shortest day of the year for us in the north hemisphere the beginning of our winter. The days before that and after summer are autumn.

By comparing December with June, she told us that both months were times best spent with families. She compared and contrasted the beginning of our summer vacation away from school in June with our winter and Christmas vacations in December. Of course, we argued that our winter vacation should include January and February to correlate with our July and August vacations, but she reminded us the importance of going to school. Still, after all the many years that have passed since her lesson, I look forward to being with family every June as much as I do every December. Whereas June is for doing things together outdoors, December is a time to do things together indoors.

Continuing with my teacher’s chart of seasons and the philosophy behind them, January is a time of long nights—a great time for snuggling with mom and/or dad and reading an epic book aloud; July is a time of long days—perfect for outdoor activities when it isn’t raining. February is the shortest and coldest month—another good month for snuggling with loved ones; August is long and often hot—the best time for swimming. March is the end of winter—a sad time for children (young and old) who love the snow; September is the end of summer—a sad time for children who don’t like school. I would like to add that this was also a sad time for my mom who enjoyed having us kids home. Mom loved spending time with children, which made her a great mom to my brothers and me, and a favorite aunt to my cousins. To counter the sadness of those two months, I have added that March is a time when warmth returns to the north, and September is that time when the days and nights are not too hot or cold. For two of my brothers, September is the start of football season and a time for yelling at the television. Speaking of TV, September is the start of new episodes for my anxious wife, children and grandchildren. For me, I like it that the baseball teams are in spring training during March (baseball is my favorite sport), and that many of my favorite authors release their new books in September.

Continuing with my teacher’s map, April is the dawn of spring and its promise of colorful flowers—a type of birth; October is the end of harvest—a type of death, but with the promise of good things to come from the ripeness of our harvest. May is a month of bountiful flowers—a time of color and beauty; November is a month to share our bounty with others—another time of color and beauty together. And, as I said earlier, June and December are good months to spend with our families.

So, no matter what time of the year, I look forward to the seasons that lie in store.

The Ridgewood Story, 12

September 10, 2012
Steve Campbell

A Quick Look at High School:

My Ridgewood visits lessened when ninth grade English class made demands on me beyond writing stories. When I found a few minutes at home, I wrote some very short stories about Lenny and Dave … and Vree. She became my imaginary confidant on paper, as well as my girlfriend. We had a sexual relationship in a very short story I scribbled one weekend in February, not long after my fifteenth birthday. Certainly, she wouldn’t—couldn’t—become pregnant unless I wrote her that way. Or so I thought.

Meanwhile, high school became center stage for me, as well as Lenny, Dave, Amy and Vree. That winter the boys signed up for their school’s baseball team, just as I signed up for my school’s team. Only Dave ever developed into a star player.

Unlike my school, Ridgewood High was a fancy designed building: a conglomeration of angles made of brick, cement and safety glass built in 1969. Located at Jefferson Avenue east of the center of town, the school housed grades 7 through 12, a big auditorium for plays and concerts and pep rallies, and a long and tall gymnasium for physical education classes and basketball and volleyball games.

Ridgewood High School
Watercolor on watercolor board
Painted 1988
Modified 2007

The school counselor and medical offices were in the heart of the building, giving students convenient access to all services. The administrative offices were in the east wing, and the main entrance and major corridor were centrally located to accommodate students, parents, and the community.

Slim gray lockers lined pastel colored hallway walls, and during the school year smells of food wafted from the huge cafeteria until 1 PM, and cookies and cakes scented the west hall all day where the Home Economic classes were located. Rally banners hung near the sports trophy case in the main hall and depending on the time of year, boasted demands for victories in football, basketball, wrestling, track, cross country, and baseball. Soccer, softball, swimming, bowling, golf and tennis were new sports added to the school’s athletics program and didn’t rank important enough for banners.

Behind the school was a spacious football field complete with fancy stadium-like lights, roomy bleachers, and soon-to-be-installed professional grade turf. Next door was the baseball field. It too had fancy lights and roomy bleachers as well as brand-new concrete dugouts, pitchers’ bullpens, and a well-tended mound.

Ridgewood High’s colors were Navy Blue and Gold, and it proudly displayed the Fighting Eagle as its mascot and “Committed to Excellence: Wisdom Giveth Life” for its motto.

Dave and Lenny made their baseball team’s junior varsity squad and I made mine. I wrote a few baseball stories before June came and our schools emptied for another summer. We all graduated to tenth grade and I spent the first few weeks recuperating from nine months of academia overload. I wouldn’t write another story until July 4, 1972.

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