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The School Bus That Spit Fire
by Peggy Rice Wright



Riding a country school bus was an experience many children had in the 40’s and 50’s out of necessity, but one unlike children of later generations will ever have. Buses still transport children to school today, but now there are many vehicles, paved roads, cameras and seat belts and bus aides to quell the behavior of disrespectful children who have no fear of any bus driver “tellin’ your daddy.” Riding the bus was a memorable way of life for me because I lived seven miles north of school with nothing but blackland roads between me and my destination. The route we took every day included many hills, twists and turns with miles and miles of black dirt, and only at Pisgah Ridge was there any semblance of paving.

Before I started to school, our landowner said it would be a good idea if Daddy drove the bus. After all, I was an only child, and my parents weren’t about to risk anyone else behind the wheel. So, for twelve years I was a passenger on the yellow school bus with Daddy at the helm.

The route was long, covering many miles, and the bus picked up children from the widespread farming communities and delivered them home again. If the weather cooperated, we left home about six-thirty in the morning to arrive at school before the bell rang just before eight. During winter, when the rains relentlessly pounded the black earth and made it impassable for most vehicles as the wetness went deeper and deeper into the ground, we left much earlier.

Before Mother put his breakfast of sausage, red-eye gravy, scrambled eggs and hot biscuits on his plate, Daddy warmed up the bus. The heater drove away some of the early morning chill. A splash of warm water and an ice scraper on the windshield just before leaving ensured clear vision briefly as the wipers slapped their irregular music against the frigid glass, dragging and scraping as the ice crystals formed again, then managing to free themselves of the offending frost and tap the beat of the metronome again.

Daddy was a good driver. I don’t know how he became so adept at driving a bus, experience I guess, but we didn’t miss but one day of school. When the roads were so deep with ruts that ordinary vehicles couldn’t get through, he drove a four-wheeled Dodge Power Wagon. More days than a few, and it was always when we were returning home and the temperature was dropping, all four tires would “ball up” the size of number 3 wash tubs as we came through the bottom where the trees held hands over the road and kept the sun from drying our passage. It seemed the soil tried to suck us down into the earth and hold us prisoner there. The three big boys would scramble for position, opening the back door or hanging out a window to watch with delight as fire came out the exhaust pipe as Daddy struggled, inch by inch, rocking the bus back and forth through muddy, treacherous land populated with an assortment of wild animals and unforgiving roads, to deliver his charges home.

We only walked home one time that winter, and Daddy carried me part of the way. He gently scolded the big boys who had leaned out the window or held the back door open to watch the power of the bus as it fought and lost the battle with the determined earth. They promised they wouldn’t do it again.

Daddy would go back to the bus later that evening and somehow rescue it from the road that held it firmly in its grip. Sometimes he took his Farmall B tractor and pulled the bus out of the mire. Other times he forced boards under the tires so they could get enough traction to move out of the mud that held them so fast. He always found a way.

There was never a discipline problem back then, because if he mentioned to momma or daddy their child had not minded him the matter was promptly settled. Oh, the big boys took advantage once in awhile and made life miserable for the younger boy who was such a pest anyway and deserved whatever they did to him! To protect my father’s reputation, I never told anyone about the eggs.

Mother sometimes rode to town with us and spent the day with a friend who owned a variety store. On the way home she would open a fresh loaf of bread and release the aroma waiting to waft its way from the confines of a wax-paper wrapper. If we were lucky she made us slap sandwiches with some real mayonnaise. This was cuisine fit for the most discriminating diner! If times were hard, she used salad dressing. I vowed when I was grown I’d find a way to always have money for mayonnaise.

During one of the especially bad winter spells that had washed out a bridge we were to cross, my uncle brought a horse to school for us to ride home. I rode with a cousin, and his sister rode her own horse. A blue norther unleashed its bone-chilling, ferocious rage at us on the way home, and we stuffed the front of our clothes with our Big Chief tablets and newspaper to defend ourselves from the icy wind Old Man Winter relentlessly forced upon us. We held tight to the saddle horns, leaning into the wind to keep from being blown off our mounts. We were relieved when a repaired bridge and improved road conditions allowed us to return to the confines of a school bus.

Daddy retired from driving the bus about a year after I graduated from high school. He said the kids were different then. They wouldn’t mind him anymore, and he said he didn’t want trouble.

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Peggy Rice Wright put down roots in the small Limestone county town of Mexia, Texas, about one hundred miles south of Dallas, as soon as she married her newspaperman husband Bob. Defecting from the Baptist church as a bride, she is a member of First United Methodist Church and proudly notes that fellow family tree resident Col. Samuel Doak McMahan established Methodism in Texas in September of 1833 amid the pastoral setting of majestic pine trees not far from St. Augustine, near Nacogdoches, Texas. Peggy was Mexia FUMC’s first librarian, served on the charter board to establish a pre-school, directed a children’s choir, was officer and member of the administrative board, taught children’s Sunday School classes and sings in the choir.

She is a longtime employee at Mexia ISD and is currently secretary to the counselors at Mexia High School. She also spends a great deal of time with her Mexia Daily News editor husband.

She is a member of the Jonathan Hardin Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and a charter member of the Limestone County Republican Women.

Peggy and Bob have two sons, two daughters-in-law, four grandchildren and a grandpuppy named Buddy.

Read more of Peggy's stories at USADEEPSOUTH!
Memories of Jody and Josie
Clotheslines, Yellow Jackets and Chewing Tobacco
Fluffy Southern Women
Memory Flavored Ice Cream
Shoe Shopping With Luck


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