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Column: The school bus
Ronda Rich.jpg
Ronda Rich

There is something about an old yellow school bus, with its heavy-sounding transmission shifts and sighs of air brakes, that warms my heart.

Perhaps it is the familiarity and how it hearkens back to the happy days of my childhood and early schooling. School buses haven’t changed much in decades and in that, I suppose, lies the most enduring magic for me.

I feel the same about vinyl records, radios with only an AM dial, and corded telephones. They’re making record players again, you know. A couple of years ago, I bought a red portable one from the Crosley company in Kentucky. I keep it in our cheerful little kitchen -- the one decorated in various shades of yellow, green and red -- and often, while cooking, I pull out a vinyl record and play it. These vinyl records, some from my years’ long collection and others bought on eBay, have the hisses and scratches of my childhood wonder: Elvis Presley singing “There Will Be Peace In The Valley” and Johnny Cash, with the Carter family and Statlers, harmonizing on “Daddy Sang Bass.”

It isn’t a coincidence that I have antique radios from both sides of my family. I can close my eyes and imagine them tapping along to the Grand Ole Opry or laughing at Jack Benny. Stinginess they understood, so Benny was probably a hero.

It didn’t just happen that I have Mama’s old beige wall phone or that I have two corded telephones at her house. I like the authenticity of them.

In the days of my growing up, most people only had one phone -- in the den or living room. True prosperity to the mountain people was a second phone, always hoisted onto the kitchen wall. No one had a bedroom phone. Our house was small with my parents’ bedroom connecting to the kitchen. In fact, it had two doors. You entered through the kitchen, walked 12 feet across the room and exited into the hallway.

After years of sitting at the kitchen table and talking on the phone, Mama came up with a terrific solution (once Mama was on the phone, she talked a long time). She rarely called others, but was always willing to put aside her work for a lengthy chat when someone else called. She bought an 8-foot-long, coiled cord. She pulled the phone around to the bed and there she rested and philosophized. As she talked, she twirled the cord around her finger. These, of course, were the cords that were a nightmare if they ever tangled up. Often, you’d wind up stretching part of it straight as you attempted to untangle.

I like that memory a lot.

The first time I stepped onto a school bus was my first day of school ever. I begged Mama to let me ride and, always the risk-taking mother, she agreed. She called the driver and arranged it. That morning, he slowed to a stop, hit the air brake and the door opened with a unique swooshing sound. I have never seen a step higher than that first one. I studied for a second how to do it then, clutching my new dark green book satchel in my hand, I inhaled deeply, grabbed ahold of the handrail and lurched myself up.

It was my first step away from childhood.

“You’re a hoarder,” Tink announced when I refused to throw away Mama’s stained apron and a paper scrap where Daddy had signed his name.

“I am not a hoarder,” I retorted. “I’m a sentimentalist. There’s a difference.”

You see, sentimentalists recognize the value of old yellow school buses, vinyl records, and radios with only one frequency.

A hoarder, on the other hand, collects rusty, discarded school buses and tosses them into the front yard.

Come to think of it, though, I think I’d like to have an old yellow school bus.