Orson Ball’s a Friend of Mine

2 Minute Read

In which I declare a sixty-year-old event, diagnose it thirty years later, and foretell its future thirty years later still.

When my youngest son Christopher entered kindergarten, a small yellow bus picked him up in front of our home every morning. As he climbed the black steps, I searched in the dark for his driver but saw instead the by-now ghost of another.

Sixty years ago, I rode a giant yellow school bus from the stop near my home to Grandview Elementary on the other side of town. Not the icon I expected; mine came without a real bus nose. Its blunted face threatened to smash horizontally anyone who disrespected its fat boundaries. If you disrespected its driver, well, those stories were the stuff of legend. The first graders said you’d be better off flattened by the bus.

Thirty years later, on Christopher’s first day of kindergarten, I marked the parallel transition with the journal entry below. A few months from now, thirty years later still, Christopher and Allie will walk Theodore to kindergarten where, at the green-metal door of a pug-nose building, they will commend him into the hands of others.


Orson Ball,
After thirty years
I still remember your name
Probably from the mean songs
And the plaque at the top of the too-steep steps.

We never spoke I can tell you that
And I sometimes wondered if it was true:
Orson Ball’s a friend of mine
He drives the bus like Frankenstein

I was only five.

“Number four!” I squinted to shout first at your final turn
Privately ashamed of that flat, pug-nose fist of a face
The mysterious yellow door opens unbidden
I walk the hollow, eyes-down, black-floor search for an empty bench
Only to stare the ride away at the green-metal bluebird stamped into the one in front.

I endeavor every day to bring down the window
With nothing for my trouble but two aching thumbs
One side might break loose
But if not the other, then too bad
You were late only once.

I say goodbye to Christopher now
Watch him climb still-steep steps for the five-mile kindergarten journey on Bluebird 3302
After thirty years, it occurs to me you might have been a friend
My little life every day commended
Into your capable Frankenstein hands.

One thought on “Orson Ball’s a Friend of Mine

  1. I really enjoyed your school bus reflections. I rode the bus to school in Kinderhook, NY every day into my senior year.

    The district included several rural towns, and the bus routes were long. Some years it was a 30-minute ride. I loved studying the farms, homes, tractors and trucks of Columbia County. The bus helped me appreciate where I grew up and the people who kept our towns and schools running.

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