After the holidays, I started at a new school. It was my first time changing schools, but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Instead of walking a couple of blocks to school, I had to walk two miles to the bus stop. I usually had company for the second mile of the walk, though. My dad had a friend who lived in a house on the far side of a lake at the foot of our road. Joe and his wife Jackie had five kids, two of whom, a boy, Michael, and a girl, Shari, were about my age. They were veterans of the long walk to the bus stop, acquainting me with the supposedly haunted house deep in the woods along the way and the science behind the way the buzzards choose to feast on road kill.
This is a true story. I haven’t changed any names. It will be published over a series of posts in the coming days and weeks. Previous post: Life in 1960s Suburbia
I don’t remember how long the bus ride to school took, but it was long enough that we often sang songs to entertain ourselves on the trip. Among our favorites were “If I Had a Hammer” and Christmas carols (regardless of what time of year it was). What I lacked in creativity, I more than made up for in a curiosity about words and language. I pondered the hammering out of love and peace between brothers and sisters, and wondered why peace on earth was only important for men (not women).
I have since gone back to try to find my old school in the mountains. None of the town’s current inhabitants seem to know anything about it, and if not for the handful of photos and the crooked toenail on my right foot where I tripped over the fireplace hearth, I might wonder if I dreamed the whole thing. But I did find the old bridge into town that would flood with the slightest rain, forcing the school bus to take a much longer route across the Shenandoah. These days, the bridge is flooded more often than it’s not and has been converted to a foot bridge.In the spring, my father brought home a tiny German Shepherd puppy. He was only four weeks old and far too young to have been taken from his mother. But the owner of the mother owed my dad a favor and had promised him the pick of the litter. When it was discovered that my dad and the other man’s daughter had picked the same pup, it was suggested that my dad should probably go ahead and take the puppy before the daughter got more attached.
He came to be called Eric and quickly grew into a large and intimidating dog. By the following fall, he was big enough to accompany me on my walks to the bus stop, veering off into the woods for 10 or 15 minutes at a time before eventually rejoining me on the road. When winter came, he would lay in the yard and allow the snow to completely cover him up. I imagine other dogs do that, too, but in all the years since, I have yet to hear of it.
Eric was meant to be a guard dog, and he did his job well. Once a friend came to visit and was trapped in his car until my mother called the dog off. Eric would make nightly rounds to check on us as we slept. My father would leave for work on Monday morning and did not return until Friday evening. His place of employment was too far to commute, so he stayed with my grandparents during the week. Eric and the shotgun gave both my parents some peace of mind.
(Next: The Trials and Tribulations of Transportation)