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When I was a small child, one room school houses were still in existence in some rural areas. One by one they were being closed as citizens succumbed to the progressive wisdom that children would be better educated in the large consolidated schools. I was fortunate enough to attend a little schoolhouse in the first grade. This was the same school where my father and grandfather had been educated in their days, but that’s another story. Unfortunately, by the end of that year, our school district had voted to close the school and bus the students to the education factories in town.

In our area, the county did not provide school buses. Each school district would contract with a bus company. Ours was a one-man operation owned by a fellow named John Sokol. Here was a character if ever there was one. He seemed to enjoy his job and most of his kids, and the students, for the most part, liked him.

On my first day of second grade, I stood dutifully at the foot of our sidewalk as the bus jiggled down the road toward my house. But I was small for my age, and along the road was a hedge of barberry bushes. I was already nervous about the new school and it did not help that, instead of stopping for me, the bus just kept on going! I heard the children on the bus yelling, and the bus screeched to a stop and backed up. Mr. Sokol said something about my being smaller than a bush and from that day on, he called me “Bush.”

I don’t remember any discipline problems on the bus. Even though Mr. Sokol could be as rowdy as the roughest boy, the kids behaved for him. I remember him laughing more than any thing else, but he was certainly no angel. Usually, if a child was not at the bus stop but could be seen running down the driveway, or if a parent came out and said Johnny was putting on his coat, he would wait for him. Mr. Sokol had some favorites among the children but there was one family he clearly did not like and I never knew why. The oldest boy was no longer in school but Chester must have been in high school at the time. Mr. Sokol would make unkind remarks about Chester, in and out of the boy’s hearing, and the older children would jeer Chester. The boy appeared to be clean, did not smell bad, and to my knowledge he was from a respectable family, but there may have been some past quarrel I was unaware of. If Mr. Sokol could leave Chester behind, he would. One morning the older brother came out and asked Mr. Sokol to wait for a few minutes. He did, but the second Chester came out the front door, Mr. Sokol drove away, laughing.

We made up a song about Mr. Sokol, to the tune of “The Old Gray Mare”:

                    Old John Sokol jumped in the Delaware,
                    Pulled off his underwear,
                    Smashed all the silverware.
                    Old John Sokol jumped in the Delaware
                    Many long years ago.

When we sang that song, he would laugh and laugh. Once he resorted to a serious voice and said there was some truth to it. He used to have a campsite on the Delaware River with an old school bus for a cabin, and he said he had jumped in the Delaware many times.

At the end of the school year, it was traditional for the bus companies to host a “bus picnic” for the students and their families at a local park. The usual fare was hot dogs and ice cream. I remember seeing a supply of Dixie cups packed in a cardboard box covered by a heavy gray army blanket. I wondered why they would cover the ice cream with a blanket on a warm day. The explanation that the blanket would keep it cold just didn’t make sense to my seven year old mind. Blankets keep you warm, right?

All good things come to an end. I’m not sure whether his treatment of Chester had anything to do with it, or what the reason was, but after a few years our school district stopped contracting with Mr. Sokol and went with the larger company that served much of the area. The buses were newer and probably better maintained, and our new driver was nice enough, but it just wasn’t the same. He was a quiet man who lacked Mr. Sokol’s sense of humor.

Eventually my family moved away. The last news I had of Mr. Sokol was a newspaper clipping my grandmother sent me. It showed an old school bus, our old bus, rusting in a field. In the caption under the picture some upstanding citizen was bemoaning the fact that the county was full of such “eyesores” and they should be removed.

I thought it was sad, not that the old bus was rusting in a field, but that someone would call it an eyesore. I thought about how beauty can be more than a well manicured roadside, and how memory, laughter, and tradition, while sometimes untidy, have an important place in our hearts.

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