Growing up on the endless, wide spaces of a rural back road, I understood how to sing without knowing a tune, dance without knowing a step, and run without winning a prize. I took for granted the loamy smell of the barnyard floor, the pinkish cast of a dusty salmon sunset and the rugged feel of a jagged horned toad in a chubby, childish hand. It was a vast and seemingly limitless life.
But one day, a magic yellow convenance stopped in front of my house, at the junction of Highway 28 and Ranch Road 193. Clutching my new vinyl book satchel tightly, I squeezed between two other children onto the green naugahyde seat and thus began my ten-year gestation in the cramped womb of school bus number 11.
Smelling of freshly sharpened pencils and last year’s sweat, the belly of the bus would contain me and fifty-something other children for 3 hours a day, ninety minutes each morning and ninety minutes each afternoon. I grew up during that incubation stage, as the vintage Bluebird bus intersected our homes, our farms, and our lives.
I grew in punctuality, as the bus rarely waited, unless of course, your mother held a cup towel out the door and waved incessantly while you scurried out the door.
I developed in storying, as I listened from my seat to the boasts and swaggers of the older kids describing their exploits in classroom, gym, and on the back of a tractor.
I flourished by playing with a paddle ball, an educational ViewMaster, and a set of clackers that kept my wrists bruised throughout the entire third grade.
Bus life helped me learn from other’s mistakes — like the boy who got sick drinking 1% alcohol from a bottle of Watkins vanilla and the middle school girl who got smacked with a FFA Ag ring when she crept on the back row reserved only for high schoolers.
In the early restriction of my pupae life of the bus, I assumed everyone was better than me because they understood the rules better and knew how to work them. But as I emerged years later from the cramped cocoon, I realized that it was our similarities rather than our differences that defined us. Our need for acceptance. Our need for approval. Our need for understanding. We were intertwined to one another, bound together by the fibrous cord of cotton, a strand that quietly connected us for a lifetime.
No matter where we sat on the bus, every seat held a dreamer, regardless of how cracked or dusty the dream seemed to be. For dreaming isn’t simply a matter of our own imagination, but influenced by those cramped into the seat beside us. In the end, we became who we admired and attracted who we became.
I’m thankful for those cramped hours with the humanity of my childhood. Because only in consistently confronting my insecurities did I find my security. Restriction is an important element to appreciating true freedom.