I grew up in a three-story apartment building in Palo Alto, California – a rectangular concrete building that still stands at the corner of Grant Avenue and Ash Street. Today, that part of town is crammed full of chic restaurants and expensive condos, but in the 1960s and 70s it was just a little neighborhood, tucked into a sleepy college town.
The school bus stopped at the corner, alongside the church parking lot. We were a raggedy bunch of kids, all elementary school ages, all white. Girls wore dresses, boys wore short pants. There were plenty of black kids in Palo Alto, but not on our block. My elementary school, Escondido (still standing on the edge of Stanford campus), was overflowing with kids from all over the world, their parents students at the university. I had friends from Finland and Iran, as well as the son of George Schultz, then Secretary of Labor for President Nixon. (That’s a story my mom always told when she wanted to impress people. I bet he doesn’t remember me, if it’s true. I don’t remember him.)
I remember standing in line at that bus stop, small kids first, bigger kids at the back. I remember other kids riding their bikes around the church parking lot; they must have been too young for school, so why were they on bikes? I remember some serious beehive hairdos and plaid coats, some moms with curlers in their hair under big scarves. I wonder, in all honesty, what I really remember and what’s just a dream.
The bus was huge. A hundred kids could fit in it. Green vinyl bench seats, rough and tacky. Big heavy glass windows that opened from the top. I think I fell asleep on a school bus one time, returning from a field trip, and talked out loud in my sleep. Other kids laughed at me. Can that be true? It makes another good story.
I’m pretty sure the bus was real. Nothing that big could ever be forgotten. Today you couldn’t find a school bus in Palo Alto if you offered a million dollars. That’s a shame. They were the great dinosaurs of my youth.
Author’s Note: The photo at the top was taken in September 1966, on my first day of first grade, and that bus was taking us to Garland Elementary, not Escondido. My memories of that vacant lot paved over as a parking lot must be from later. And clearly, it was the big kids at the front of the line, not us little squirts. That’s me, short brown hair, light green coat, looking over my shoulder at the photographer. I think that’s Lisa O.’s mom with the camera; with her back to the sun, she’s clearly a more experienced photographer than (probably) my mother, taking this picture facing directly East. It was my mother, however, who printed this from the slide and gave it to me the day I graduated from college.
Poet. Nurse. Teacher. Mom. Daughter. Sister. Knitter. Swimmer. Contemplative in training. Follow "A Twirly Life" (twirlyword.wordpress.com).