I was a spry five-year-old the first time I climbed those school bus steps. My mom and little sisters watched me as I bravely boarded the bus and took my seat in the front row. Waving confidently from the window, I hoped to convince them that I was big and that the 45 minute ride to my first day of school was just a means to an end. And it was. I couldn't wait to hit the classroom.
One year later, my sister Chantel would climb those steps with me. She took my place in the front row as I had been promoted back one row. Two years after that baby sister Amy joined us and we all shifted rows. We three girls rode the same school bus for over a decade. Starting with me in 1975 and ending in 1986. The same bus, the same route, quite often the same passengers and always the same driver.
Mrs. Logan was a career bus driver. She took her job of shuttling students between home and school seriously. We respected Mrs. Logan. We felt the heat from our parents if we didn't respect Mrs. Logan. If I strayed from the rules of the bus, Mrs. Logan would come to a stop in front of my house, slide that little side window open and report to my mother exactly what I'd done as I slunk down those stairs.
When I was small and sat up front I was fascinated with Mrs. Logan's skills. The way she shifted those gears, negotiated corners, curves and garbage cans, her perfect timing of rolling to a halt, pushing the red button that flipped the stop sign into position and whipping open the folding door with the silver handle. Amazing.
Soon we were rolling on the long road between small home town and small school town. We kids settled in for the ride and Mrs. Logan checked in with the truckers. "Breaker 1-9 this is Buttons and Bows, copy?" The CB radio buzzed with news of ice on the bridge or a jack-knifed truck up ahead. Mrs. Logan always knew what to expect.
We rode for miles, crossed Black Bayou and then crossed the Red River. Sometimes we'd get stuck creeping behind a cotton trailer. The bolls seeking freedom flew at the bus windshield like summer snow. Mrs. Logan had to decide between being off schedule and attempting to pass on a two lane road. Many times the trailer would pull to the side and let us pass or make the next turn and free the road. But, if she had to, Mrs. Logan could put that bus into gear and pass whatever, whenever.
As I got bigger and my assigned seat moved further from the action up front, I used my travel time to eat breakfast, catch up on homework, study for a test, chat with friends and flirt with boys. Oh and fix my hair and put on more make-up. The bus had a cutting-edge climate control system called windows. On warm mornings the boys wanted the windows down but it blew the girls' hair and we complained. On hot afternoons, we lowered all the windows. My hair would be a mess but no worries, school was over for the day and I had another chance at great hair tomorrow. On cold mornings we huddled together on those stiff bench seats and wrote our names in the frost on the windows. But we were tough, we made it.
The lengthy ride to school was almost enjoyable when Stephen Green brought his boom box along. Mrs. Logan stopped him at the bottom of the stairs. "If I have to tell you to turn that thing down, then it's going off." But she'd smile after she said it. Yes mam, Stephen would reply and strut down the aisle. We listened to cassette tapes, we sang along, we debated over bands, we made requests for the next day. The boom box transformed our bus into a party on wheels. Well, not exactly a party per se, what with the low volume and all but still. You get the picture.
We used most of our energy and words at school getting smarter which made for a calm, quiet ride home. Sure there was time to jump on homework but we could do that the next morning. Afternoons were for reflection, sight-seeing and naps. Mrs. Logan always brought us home safely and mostly on time. I was ever appreciative of days when tractor-trailer traffic had been light and we shaved a few minutes from the drive. On those days I caught all thirty minutes of the Brady Bunch and didn't have to conjure up the opening scene in my head.
When I turned sixteen my dad bought my sisters and me a car. I would now be responsible for getting us to school and back home safely and on time each day. The thought of never riding the bus again was bittersweet. Mrs. Logan had taken good care of us for a decade. But still it was a bus and we were teenagers with important after-school activities like student council, basketball team and cheerleading. It made sense to drive.
One morning we were late. Probably the result of a heavy hand on the snooze button. I tried to make up the difference by speeding over to school. I found myself behind the bus, the one with "Buttons and Bows" painted on the bumper, and I chose to pass it. When I got home late that afternoon, Dad informed me of a phone call from Mrs. Logan. "Those girls are driving too fast. They need to be safe, get to school in one piece." We weren't even on her bus but Mrs. Logan was still taking care of us.
I graduated two years later and Chantel took over the driving. The next year she graduated and for two more years Amy was the lone wolf in the car. All the while, Mrs. Logan was still driving our bus.
We invited Mrs. Logan to our graduations, our weddings, our baby showers. We welcomed her at memorial services too. She was a part of my childhood and has since shifted her way into my adulthood. I won't forget her face, her voice or her CB handle. Because in a small, Southern town your bus driver is never just your bus driver.