We lived about 3 miles south of town on Road 52. That meant we had to ride a bus to get to school. Mr. Klingenberg was the bus driver at Windsor School. He was great. He knew our names and on our birthdays he would try to spank us as we got on the bus. We loved Mr. Klingenberg. He was also the school janitor. He had gray hair and gold on one of his teeth. He rang the school bell in the bell tower. Sometimes he’d let one of us help pull the bell rope. It had a big knot at the end of it. Windsor school was old. My dad and all of his brothers went there when they were kids in the 1930s. That’s where Dad learned to speak English. The school bell has been there a long time.
Mrs. Klingenberg was shy. She had blonde curly hair and wore aprons and blue dresses. She worked in the cafeteria. The Klingenbergs lived in the house next to the playground. They had a teen-aged daughter named Myrna. She was our babysitter when we were little. She laughed a lot and thought it was funny when we made tickle brushes out of wild wheat stalks. She had a little space between her front teeth, and wore her blonde hair in a flip.
Mr. Klingenberg took good care of us. He was proud of his bus. One day Kevin Klassen, the biggest trouble maker at school (he was always sitting on the green bench outside the class rooms) and Johnny Getts, his side kick (who died of cancer when we were in the 4th grade), were shooting spit wads at each other. Mr. Klingenberg asked them to stop. I guess they didn’t because Mr. Klingenberg pulled the bus over and stopped. That had never happened before. He left the driver’s seat and marched to the back of the bus where the trouble was. After seeing the spit wads all over the dirty floor, he made Kevin and Johnny pick them up and stuff them into their mouths, where they were kept until they got off the bus when their stops came. We all sat in silence the rest of that trip.
Sometimes we walked to school along the back avenues and ditches. It took about half an hour to get there, but most of the time we rode the bus with our country neighbors. We were often the first ones on and the last ones off because of where we lived. Road 52 was the same as Reed Ave. in town, a straight line to the school. We had good friends on the bus–Richard Wall, Mitchell Abe, Kevin Buhler, Lisa Hansen, Susan Sawatzki, Gayle Robertson, Salvador Gonzales, and our cousin Mark Laemmlen were some. We learned the countryside quite well after criss-crossing it every day on the bus.
When we went to Washington Elementary for 4th -6th grades, we joined a fleet of busses that brought the country kids into town. The bus rides were often up to an hour long. We liked it best when we got to catch the bus in our driveway. Usually we were let off by Grandma’s house where Stockdale’s, Wall’s, and we shared the stop. In the early mornings, while waiting for the bus, we’d play in the ditch, making trails and paths inside the ditch. As winter came and it got foggy, we’d have to be careful not to miss the bus because it was hard to see it coming. If we weren’t out waiting, the driver would honk for us.
When I was in Jr. High, we once had a very foggy morning. We’d wake up early to listen to the radio to see if it was a “foggy day schedule.” If it was, we’d get to stay home for a few hours waiting for the fog to lift so the roads would be safe. Sometimes it was clear in town, but foggy in the country where we lived. This particular morning should have been a foggy day schedule, but it wasn’t announced, so we went out to wait for the bus. Pam was our bus driver. She had been our driver for some time. People whispered that she was gay. She wore cowboy boots and tank tops and she didn’t shave under her arms. She wore her hair in a pony tail every day. It was long, dark and greasy. We liked her OK, but she made us a little nervous.
On that morning, I took the seat right behind Pam in the very front. It was very foggy. We were going east on El Monte, and came to the yellow flashing light that signaled an intersection. It was too foggy to see the intersection. We weren’t going very fast, but before we knew it, we had rear-ended a car that had rear-ended a car that had mistakenly stopped for the light. You couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of you. As we crashed into the car, I was thrown all the way to the windshield, but was able to stop myself without getting hurt. The kids in the very back seat of the bus were scared stiff and Pam told them not to move. They were all on their knees looking out the back window waiting for the next hit. Pam went out to inspect the damage, and we found that there were cars backed into each other on all four roads coming into the intersection.
Eventually we made our way out of the pile up and back to the school. Mrs. Cockeran, the P.E. teacher didn’t believe our tale when we came into the locker room late. I’d never been in a crash before, but they were very common in our valley fog.
In high school, we still rode the bus occasionally. But with early morning seminary, and with more and more activities after school, including swim practice, we most often got a ride into town in the mornings and a ride home from mom at the end of the day. Every once in awhile Dad would let me drive the one ton truck to school. There weren’t many kids who were allowed to drive to school. I loved pulling into the parking lot in the one ton. It was pretty cool.
I sometimes miss those years of riding on the bus. We had good friends, good times, and good adventures while sitting together with friends on our way to and from school.