As another school year begins anew, my sons love hearing tales of old school in our house. Some of their favorite stories actually come from my husband, who with five brothers, had alot of teacher mayhem tales. But, growing up in Connecticut, my stories seem to have the New England charm any young boy finds magical with such foreign concepts as well water, skating on frozen ponds, the legend of the Charter Oak tree and of course, school bus stories.
My oldest son plays the trombone. I feel for him, playing a big instrument and juggling his backpack, books, lunch and whatever else he has to bring to school on any given day. But in a "When I was your age" one-uppance, I casually said to him, "You're lucky you get driven to school."
"Why?" he asked, "Didn't you like taking the bus when you were my age?"
"Well, sure," I responded, "What's not fun about being with your friends on the ride to school, and picking your special seat and the race every morning uphill (Truly, my walk to the bus stop was uphill albeit, not both ways.) And when I played the flute in 4th grade, it was fine because a flute is small. But when I got into 6th grade, I really wanted to be in jazz band. My teacher told me I should learn another instrument."
"Oh, trumpet," he answered.
"No, better. Tenor saxophone. You know, the one with the curved neck and the big bell. It was fabulous and I was the only girl in jazz band. I loved it."
"Mom, this story is sort of lame. What does this have to do with the bus?"
"Your mother sacrificed prime bus seating for her art. You have no idea what it does to your seating options when you board the school bus with a tenor sax case. No one wants to sit with you and if they do once, they never do it again. They do the bus seat spread, moving all their stuff across the seat. I can spot that look that comes with it a mile away now."
"That's kind of sad. How long did you play tenor sax?"
"For years, but then I wanted to be in the orchestra and you don't need a tenor sax in that and I knew I couldn't earn a coveted flute chair, so I decided to talk to the teacher again."
At this point middle son chimes in, "Oh my goodness," he explained, "did you play the gong?!"
"No, better. I played the bassoon. No one in my school had ever played the bassoon. It was in the back of the instrument closet. And that case was even bigger than the tenor case!"
By now, I had them enthralled with my tale of musical, musical chairs.
"Did you ever bring both instruments on the bus at the same time?" they asked, wide-eyed.
"Well, I'm not crazy! And technically, jazz band and orchestra never met on the same day. It would have been catastrophic. But that bassoon case saved my life one morning."
"It did?" they asked.
"Yes, it was a cold, snowy morning in Connecticut but we still had school, because when I was young and lived in Connecticut, they never cancelled school. And the buses has chains that they put on the wheels to give them traction which they don't use here in Washington, D.C. As our bus went to stop on our hill, because everything was uphill, it slipped a bit. But we were young and back then, there were no crossing guards, so we all started to cross. But the bus wasn't stopping. And just as I put my bassoon case up, the bus touched it and stopped."
"So, you saved everyone's life," said middle son, grinning from ear to ear.
"And then they all wanted you to sit with them because you saved them all," said oldest son.
"Oh, I never really thought about that," I replied, confused. "I don't remember them all asking me to sit with them. I think we just got on the bus and I sat with bassoon, alone. Oh, I think I like your ending better."
"Yeah, that was a good one, mom. Goodnight." And they went to bed and I went to put clothes away in my closet. And up on the top shelf, looking down at me, was my beloved flute case which I've carried with me all these years because, well, it's much easier to move around with a flute.