After screeching brakes brought the big yellow school bus to a halt at the foot of our driveway, doors swooshed open as a handlebar mustachioed man wearing a train conductor’s hat announced, “All aboard!”
With my brothers in front of me, I climbed the steps then paused for a moment looking for just the right seat. After all, it was the first day of school and picking the right seat on the bus was most important. Then IT happened. The driver directed to take the seat right behind him! I was so excited I could hardly sit down!
The driver turned around saying, “Good morning, Sir Rick,” then announced in a friendly husky voice that boomed down the length of the bus, “Everybody take your seats. This bus is leaving the station!”
Walter P. Holcombe was a retired train conductor from England turned school bus driver. He’d been shuttling us kids from Flamingo, the Duke of Gloucester, and Scenic Terrace to and from Mt. Olive Elementary School for as long as any of us could remember.
Each school day, he selected one student to sit behind him to pull on the golden chain — a chain connected to the special train whistle he had attached to the roof. It was only after a good tug that the bus would move on to the next stop. Today I was that student!
Standing, I gave the chain a long tug. Instantly the train whistle echoed down Flamingo. Walter P. Holcombe gave me a nod and a handlebar mustachioed smile, and then we pulled away from the curb heading to our next stop.
For Twin Brother Mark and me, it was our first day of fourth grade. That meant two things: no Down The Street Bully Brad sitting in the back of my classroom throwing spitballs at me and no more Old Mrs. Crabtree! For the last twenty-five years she had taught only third grade, and I had her the previous year. This year I would have a classroom full of new kids … and a new teacher. Nothing could possibly ruin this perfect day.
The last kid picked up from Flamingo was Bully Brad. Boarding the bus, he walked right past me, flinging his backpack over his shoulder so it “accidentally” hit me. The driver stopped him and said, “Not going to have any trouble out of you this year, are we, son?”
“No sir, Mr. Holcombe,” Bully Brad answered before taking his seat at the back of the bus. After picking up all the kids on the Duke of Gloucester, the bus sped up, making it to school right on time.
I gave one last pull on the golden chain as we came to a stop in front of our school. “Good job! See you this afternoon, Sir Rick,” Walter P. Holcombe said. Then in his booming train conductor’s voice, he announced, “Final stop, Mt. Olive Elementary. All children disembark and have a good day!”
Stepping off the bus I walked into school and headed down the main hallway. All the fourth grade classrooms were through the double doors at the bottom of the ramp and to the left. Walking slowly to look for my room number, I got bumped into from behind. Thinking it was Bully Brad, I whipped around, ready to duck and run from the fight.
A smiling Bubba Hanks was standing there instead, “What room you in?” When I told him, he got excited, “202? So am I!” Walking down the hallway together, I asked him if he knew who our teacher was. He answered, “Nope, but I heard she’s a new fourth grade teacher.”
Turning the corner down the fourth grade hall, one by one other kids from Flamingo Street joined us. It seemed room 202 was also their destination. Somebody in the office must’ve made a mistake. They’d put all the kids from Flamingo into the same fourth grade classroom!
Spilling into room 202 at the same time, we all madly scrambled for seats. Luckily, I was able to get the perfect seat once again: third row over from the door and third seat back from the front. Just like last year, my seat was dead center of the room. The smart kids sat on the front rows so the teacher would ask them questions first. The not so smart kids, and any bullies, sat on the back rows. They would be asked questions second. But being in the middle of the room meant the teacher would run out of questions long before she got to me.
The bell rang for the start of school, but still no teacher. Looking around the classroom, only one seat remained empty — the last seat in the back of the room in my row.
No Old Mrs. Crabtree. No Bully Brad. What a great year this was going … the stern voice floating in from the hallway stopped me mid-thought. “Take your seat! And I don’t want any trouble out of you this year.”
As the last kid in our classroom walked past, he “accidentally” hit me with his book bag knocking me out of my chair. He snarled, “Welcome to fourth grade, Spitball!” then took his seat in the back of the room. Our teacher walking into the room had witnessed the exchange and saw me still on the floor. What happened next crushed any remaining hope I had of having a good school year.
Reverberating through the room was the teacher’s voice, causing the murmurs between the other kids to end instantly. “Bradley McAlister! I warned you. To the office young man, now!”
It can’t be, I thought getting back into my seat. But it was. Dragging Bully Brad out of the classroom by his ear was our teacher who, after twenty-five years, had decided to take a break from teaching third grade. Welcome to fourth grade, Old Mrs. Crabtree.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]