(Writing 101, Day Nineteen: Don’t Stop the Rockin’
On this free writing day, remember the words of author Anne Lamott: “I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.” Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.)
(I chose to write this from my mother’s point of view. It’s a true story)
One of the scariest, most stressful days of my life was the day I had planned for my girls to come downtown to meet me at the bank. I had made dental appointments for them both, because the school required it. We didn’t really have the money, but rules were rules. I found a dentist who would agree to a payment plan. Back in those days, I don’t even know if anyone had insurance to go see a dentist. It’s been a long time ago now–62 years! I can’t believe it. Sandy was seven, and Linda was five.
I planned so carefully. I didn’t leave any detail uncovered, and I had dependable people to help them got on the bus. We lived in Minneapolis. It was 1952, which seems like a very innocent age, looking back. That didn’t mean you didn’t need to be careful, though, and I worried all day about my little girls being on that bus, alone, in such a big city. I just didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t drive, and their dad couldn’t leave his job if he wanted his next paycheck. We agreed together to my plan, and today was the day.
That morning, we had gone over the plans again. “Now, you girls know what to say to the bus driver, don’t you? Mrs. Taylor will help you get on the bus, and when you get on and pay the driver, you say–“
“We need to get off at the corner of the Northwestern National Bank!” we chorused, right on cue.
“That’s right, and be sure to tell the driver–“
“Don’t drive away until you see we’re with our mom. She’ll be waiting RIGHT THERE on the CORNER!”
“Okay,” I sighed, not feeling confident at all. I had butterfles in my stomach, and I knew it would be hard to focus on my work that day. The hours crept by, leaving my poor stomach in knots. I felt terrible about this whole situation. My girls were way too little to be alone like this. But I’d called the bus lines, and they told me that little kids ride alone all the time, that the drivers are trained to watch for them, and that I didn’t need to worry about a thing. Oh, sure. Not a thing!
My friend Mrs. Taylor was glad to help the girls get on the right bus. I knew that end of it would be fine. The girls thought it was a wonderful adventure to do something so grown-up all on their own. They had no idea of all the dangers that lurked in my imagination, and I didn’t tell them.
When they got on the bus, they did exactly what I had told them to do. They thought it was great fun to put the money in the slot and hear the chink as it hit the bottom of the tiller. Then the bus door wheezed shut, and they quickly found a place that had two empty seats. And they did tell the driver where to let them off. Twice.
I knew what time they would get on the bus, and I knew when the bus was scheduled to get to my corner. As each bus lumbered up to the stop, my heart was in my throat. It should be the next one. It was exactly the right time, and the right number was on the bus down the block. What scared me is that the bus didn’t slow down as it neared my corner! There were no passengers waiting to get on, and that big old bus just kept right on rolling! I couldn’t get a glimpse inside to see if the girls were on the bus, but at that moment I really thought I was going to pass out, I felt so frightened and helpless.
We didn’t have cell phones back then. I frantically searched my purse for a dime so I could use the public phone booth in the bank lobby, but then I worried that if the girls were on the next bus, I would miss them if I were inside the bank. Oh, no, what would I do?
Right about then, a couple of my coworkers came out of the building. They waved at me, and I practically screamed at them to help me. They high-tailed it right to me, and with tears pouring down my face I explained what was happening.
“All right, Junie. We just need to call the bus line, and they’ll take care of it. Here, give me the dime and I’ll go make the call for you,” said my best friend at work. Her name was Sniff. Don’t ask. Long story.
While Sniff was inside, my other friend and I continued to watch as the buses stopped, loaded and unloaded, and went on. Still no sign of my girls, and it was way past time for them to be there. I was frantic, pacing and crying, my friend trying to comfort me. Sniff came back out and told me she’d reported the situation, told them the girls’ names and ages; the manager at the depot promised to be on the lookout. He knew which bus, and he promised he’d take the girls and put them on a bus doing the route from the other direction. He said it would be less than an hour.
An HOUR! Oh, my poor heart. My poor stomach. I needed to call the dentist. I needed to call Johnny. But all I could do was stand there and cry. My friends promised to stay with me until my girls were safe, and one of them went to make the calls for me. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
On the bus, the one that didn’t stop–the ONLY one that didn’t stop– my little girls were becoming very certain that something was wrong. They’d been downtown often enough to know that they’d probably gone past the bank where I worked. They didn’t know if they should approach the driver or just wait for him to tell them what to do. After all, he was a grown-up, and he’d promised to let them off at the bank. You can trust grown-ups, right? Huh!
The bus stopped a few more times, but always in neighborhoods my girls didn’t recognize. They sat very still, watching the street lights begin to blink on, watching the glow of sunset colors begin to decorate the sky, and knowing that something was very wrong. Would they be in trouble? Had they forgotten something? Should they go up front and ask the driver?
Just as they were ready to get up, the driver glanced up in his rearview mirror. Linda was watching, and she saw his eyes grow very big and his face grow very red. He slowed down and pulled over by a school building. Once the bus had stopped, he walked back and stood there looking funny.
“Did you girls forget to get off at the bank?”
“You were supposed to tell us,” Sandy answered. “You didn’t tell us! You’re gonna be in trouble!”
“Okay, okay, look, don’t worry. We’ll get you back there, but I have to go to the terminal first. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Come up front and sit right behind me.”
At the terminal, several men were standing there waiting. They went up to the bus right away, hustled my daughters off and put them on a different bus that was empty. Again, they sat right behind the driver, and he told them his name was Bob, and he was going to take them home.
“NO! No, we can’t go home! We have to meet our mom at the Northwestern National Bank!”
“Right. Got it. You’ll be back with your mom in just a few minutes. Here, have a stick of gum. Have a comic book. Just don’t worry, and don’t cry. You’ll be fine.”
By this time, a policeman on his beat had noticed the to-do I was creating, and he’d stopped to see if he could help. He went to a call box on a street light and I guess he called his precinct office. When he came back he patted my shoulder and told me not to worry, everything would be fine. I was getting pretty tired of hearing that!
When I spotted a bus coming from the other direction, my heart climbed right up into my throat. I started to run across the street, but horns blared and brakes squealed. The policeman grabbed me and pulled me back, and told me to stay right where I was. HE would go across the street. If my girls were on the bus, he would get them safely across.
And they were. Oh, thank God, they were on that bus! The officer told me that both of them had the biggest eyes he’d ever seen as they came down the steps from the bus. They must have thought they were in an awful lot of trouble, to be met by a policeman!
He had one on each side of him, and he shepherded them across that busy street as if they were more valuable than gold.