I was taking a drive with dad the other day — heading back to the ranch from town after dropping my car off at the shop and in between an exchange about this endless winter — when dad told me George died.
“Good ol’ George. Drove bus all those years. He was my bus driver too, you know … what a guy, that George.”
“George died?!” I exclaimed because I hadn’t heard and because it surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have. George was well into his 80s.
But George was the type of person I thought would live forever. He was one of those guys who never aged, a fixture in my small world sitting behind the wheel of Bus No. 12, kicking up a ribbon of pink dust on his way to pick up sleepy-eyed kids in hand-me-down Wranglers.
And George was responsible for getting us there. George, in that feed store cap sitting sort of crooked on top of a thick head of sandy hair. George, who farmed a few miles up the road at the place with the tractor-shaped mailbox.
George, who gave us a brown paper bag full of peanuts, an apple and Shasta pop on Christmas and on the last day of school.
George, who once cut through a field in the middle of winter with a bus full of kids because he knew he couldn’t make the icy highway hill.
We thought you could make it too, George — if only 12-seat school busses had four-wheel drive.
These were the stories we told, dad and I, while we drove George’s route home: right at the corners, left at the white fence, onto our scoria road and down that steep hill George must have had to take a run at hundreds of times in his life.
As a kid, this route meant I was one of the first to be picked up in the morning and the last to be dropped off, making my round trip to the country school 15 miles down the road last a good couple hours. But that was OK, because in George’s bus I sat next to my best friend, and we always had a lot to catch up on.
“When we first moved back home and your sister was just little — she was so tiny — heading to kindergarten or first grade, George would pull up and get out to carry her over the snow banks and get her into the bus,” Dad remembered.
This world’s full of people who make big impressions in politics and entertainment. We go to college, get our Ph.D.s, work on projects that will help us make something of ourselves. Make an impact. Make a difference.
George drove bus for more than 50 years. Every morning, before the sun lit his barnyard, he turned the key of a vehicle that would fill up with young kids in bright colors and teenagers wishing they could drive already.
He would turn on the country station and the heat when it was cold. And when it was hot, when summer hung on at the beginning of the school year, he would point that fan up the aisle and mix up the dust that had settled on the floor as we bounced along the edges of half-harvested fields and pastures slowly turning from green to gold.
The day I heard George would not live forever like I thought he would, I couldn’t help but think what a shame it was to lose a man like that. Not because he made grand entrances or that we even really knew him so well or understood what made him stay behind that wheel day in and day out, but because George, well …
What a guy, that George.
Veeder is a musician and writer living with her husband on a ranch near Watford City. Readers can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.