Wanderings – Flying yellow school buses…

Swimming lessons at Chisamore’s Pond was one of those summer highlights I remember most about growing up.

A school bus ran around the countryside to pick up kids for this swim program and drop them off at the pond. There were two runs, morning and afternoon, depending on what colour lesson you were signed up for.

I didn’t like swimming lessons. The pond wasn’t really a pond, it was an old quarry that had filled up with water after the 401 was built, and had a “sandy” beach at one end. The water wasn’t great, usually brown and murky. There were no three-headed fish so nothing too serious was dumped in it. Some of the kids said there was an old car at the bottom that had been stolen, but being a naive 10 year old, I didn’t know whether to believe it.

The part I remember the most was the bus ride to and from the pond. The route was different from my normal bus route to school. The kids were different too. It was summer break and we didn’t have to worry about school. The best part was we didn’t have “Hitler” for a bus driver.

Okay I will back up here. The bus driver for the school bus route I was on, we nicknamed “Hitler”. He had dark brown hair, frequently yelled at us kids in sharp, short, commands and he wore a moustache like Adolf Hitler’s. The resemblance was unfortunately uncanny.

On a bus driven by “Hitler”, you could not get away with anything. Switch seats, get yelled at. Sneak a pack of gum, yelled at again. Of course I never did those things, but I observed them while quietly reading a book.

In contrast, Jimmy, our bus driver for swimming lessons was fun. No, really! Instead of classical music playing on the “Hitler” bus (Wagner probably), it was Aerosmith and Van Halen.

The bus would crisscross the countryside. Jimmy would take corners fast so we’d slide across our seats. He’d go over washboard gravel roads fast so it felt like your teeth would vibrate out of your mouth. But the train tracks were the best. Sure, many people try to “get air” in their Cameros and K-Cars, going fast over a railway crossing – but how many people can claim they have done this in a 1985 Blue Bird yellow school bus? Why Jimmy, of course!

This happened for a couple of summers until one day, on the return trip Jimmy “got air” at the railway crossing and when the bus reconnected with the ground, something broke.

A second bus was called to take us kids home while Jimmy waited on the side of the road with an OPP officer and the tow truck guy. None of us saw Jimmy behind the wheel of a bus ever again.

And of course, who was the bus driver driving the replacement bus? “Hitler”. I rode my bike to swimming lessons for the rest of that summer. The fun was over.

I look back on riding the school bus and those childhood memories weren’t all that bad. But we also didn’t have to wear masks and other protective equipment on the bus.

One of the many things that worries me as a parent this fall, with kids returning to school full time on buses wearing face masks and hands doused in hand sanitizer, is what long term effect this will have on kids. We are told by experts that kids are resilient: we all are in our own ways. But going to school shouldn’ feel scary and right now, it does. Hopefully. when this is all over, our kids can find the odd good memory out of it all.