By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
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As I said in my Father’s Day blog, during the school year our main farm duty was milking. Dad didn’t believe in sleeping in and he wanted the milking done before we left for school. This meant we had to be in the barn by 4:30 in the morning.
Our barn held 80 cows, and sometimes we had to turn a few out after they were milked to bring in the rest of the cows. There was no fooling around, since we were supposed to have the milking done before we headed off to school.
The second the last cow was milked, we made a mad dash for the house. We usually had about 10 minutes to shower if possible, grab some breakfast and our books, and make another mad dash out the door, and across the lawn to the farm driveway for the bus to pick us up.
If we weren’t standing at the side of the road when the bus pulled up, there was no waiting for us. Our bus driver was named Wanda, and, to put it mildly, she was not a nice or happy person.
Most of the kids on the bus would be sitting quietly, probably still half asleep, but not us. By the time we got on the bus, we had already been up for hours, so we laughed and talked as we rode along. I think Wanda preferred the quiet, almost catatonic kids to us because she would glare at us in the mirror at every opportunity when we were talking, but especially when we were laughing.
One morning as we rode along, Joann and I were sitting together, and started to laugh about something. She glared at us in the mirror, and then said “Too much feather soup this morning, girls?”
I guess she thought we had feather soup for breakfast which tickled our throats and caused our giggling. Too bad for her. Even though we were working very hard on the farm, we were still very happy kids!
Our place was about in the middle of her route, which meant there were a lot of kids to pick up after us in the morning, and a lot of kids to drop off before us in the afternoon. One of the older boys, who rode the bus occasionally, got on the bus one afternoon with a can of Pepsi.
As usual, Wanda just glared at him. And she continued to glare at him at every stop as kids left the bus. But miles before his stop, and ours which was right after his, she stopped the bus to let some kids off. After they crossed the road and went into their house, she just sat, staring into the mirror. This went on for several minutes, her just sitting there, and cars going around the bus. Finally she told him to get rid of the Pepsi. And he told her he wasn’t done with it.
They had a staredown for a while – her looking at him in the mirror and him staring back, slowly drinking his Pepsi. Finally, he sighed and said “Well, if I had known we were going to spend the night, I would have brought my pajamas!” And with that, she opened the bus door and said ‘GET OFF!”. He took his Pepsi, walked slowly to the front of the bus, and got off. And she drove away!
We had nicknamed her “Wanda the Witch,” and every year before the school year started, we waited for the bus schedule to come. There was another bus that came right past our house. We would have gotten on later, and gotten off earlier, but we were never on that route. Every year the schedule had the same time, and ”Wanda the Witch” as the driver. Dang!
But then one morning, our brother Paul got on the bus with what we thought was his lunch. It was in one of those little brown bags that we all used to carry our lunch in. But it wasn’t lunch, and a short ways down the road, he held the bag down by the floor of the bus, and out came a salamander. It was a couple of minutes before the commotion started. Other kids started to notice, and then Wanda noticed, especially when some of the kids started screaming.
It was funny, but we thought we were dead. She was going to tell on us and we’d get kicked off the bus system. I’m sure there was a call to Mom, but we don’t remember getting reprimanded at home. Maybe Mom kept it to herself, since all they did was change our bus. We finally ended up on the other bus that passed right by our house.
It was driven by the head bus driver, and he was a very nice, happy man! From then on, we got on the bus a few minutes later and, if we hurried with the milking, that gave us a few more minutes to get ready. And in the afternoon, we got home a few minutes earlier which gave us a few minutes to grab a snack before we went out to the barn to milk again.
We worked very hard as farm kids, but we did always manage to have fun. I hope everyone has as many great childhood memories as we do!
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