When I started first grade, the big noisy, yellow bus squeaked to a halt at our drive, and a tousle-haired "school patrolman," in belt and badge, presented himself as protection on my walk across the road that lay in front of our home, to the bus door and my seat. The student patrolman occupied a high position in the hierarchy of the bus, right after the driver, who was usually a man or woman short of temper and long of determination. Given such unyielding and impartial overseers going by the book with grim, plodding procedure, most of us aspired to satisfy the objective of such zeal...i.e., choosing a seat, sitting down, and shutting up. Usually this happened right after the patrolman shouted at us "Choose a seat, sit down, and shut up!"
On our way to school, there were the sights along the route - the things that seemed to repeat on our many trips to the grinding torture that was our early education. There was one of my classmates' mother, who was held in special regard for her indifference to stop signs. She was the wife of a retired army colonel and was recognizable by her large Jeep woody wagon as well as her head dress, which consisted of a black kerchief tied in Aunt Jemima fashion. She was very nice and one of a kind, but bus drivers everywhere knew to slow to a crawl in her vicinity. It is the reading between the lines, the use of logical deduction that separates those days from today.
Our last stop before school was in the village near a local cafe, which had living quarters upstairs. Every morning our bus took in riders at the business and as they loaded on, a lady stood near the entrance to the living quarters with a fully-grown girl who obviously had mental and physical deficiencies. They seldom failed to appear unless the weather prevented. Clutching her doll, she always stood smiling at the edge of her world and waved excitedly to the children, some of whom laughed at her, on the bus in the other world. She continued to wave with glee as we moved past the feeling of a little pain, a little pity, to our more fortunate destination.
Schools were segregated at this time, and I recall with a sense of shame how some passengers on the bus would rush to the windows when spying black children walking by the side of the road and shout unkind words at them. I most recall the eyes and posture of the pedestrians treated to such unkind ridicule and I am profoundly shocked at my own failure to be incensed. It speaks to the same low profile I maintain on many issues today. Reason is no weapon in a duel with prejudice; moral rightness can be negotiated through illogical debate and dogma. Sadly the "choose a seat, sit down, and shut up" philosophy has had an enduring influence, but I'm working on it every day on Waverly Lane.