The first school buses of autumn send shivers through me. It’s true. Those yellow-carriers-of-children to some endless dolor of desks and chalky dust evoke in me inner prickles of impending loss. Once the diesel-belching yellow dragons start sniffing out the summer-bleached children I know that all that’s halcyon and warm will soon be shorn and shrunk.
Long and leisurely swims in the lake will end and the curtains of night will draw ever tighter around the waning windows of winter light. Everything, everything will be foreshortened.
The constraints of ever encroaching dark will make the weight of time seem heavier still. We mortals, already foreigners to time, will count and pray for the day when light will start to spread her wings with ever broader, bolder bands of gold and blue and warmth. Such are the thoughts that impending winter evokes in me here in the Pacific Northwest.
All of those feelings were static-charged and loosely stuffed and jumbled in my mind as I walked our youngest child, Jaime, to the end of our drive to catch her bus on the first day of the school year.
I have always felt that children are especially keen when it comes to reading emotions and thoughts. I could pretend and act all I wanted but I had no doubt that Jaime was not immune to my fall forebodings. She was feeling the same as I about climbing onto that malformed monster that carried little children away from hearth and home. But come it did, the door opened and hissed in true dragon fashion as I lifted Jaime onto the first step of the bus. The driver did her best to smile invitingly at her newest conscript. It didn’t work. Jaime turned to me with panic, lunged back into my arms and dug her small fingers into my sweater.
I spoke consolingly, I assured her that a fun filled day awaited her. Hypocrite! The driver gave broad nods of affirmation, each nod punctuated with a telling look at her watch. Jaime wasn’t buying, then the driver dug into her, surely well practiced, bag of tricks and pulled out a treat. “Ah, see what I have for the children on the bus this morning —your choice of one of these candies.”
The treats turned the tide of impending tears but I could tell that a current of apprehension still lingered as I placed her on the steps inside the door. Nevertheless, Jaime turned, put one small foot on the next step up and reached for the lure. The driver’s face flashed a look of triumph—the captive was hers! She reefed on the door handle and it swung shut. I heard no sobs —all would be well. The dragon hissed once again and off it rolled down the autumn hued road.
It wasn’t until the bus started moving that I noticed the tug. My clinging child had taken part of my sweater with her onto the bus. The dragon’s closing mouth had ensnared Ann’s lovingly knit sweater on one of its bolt like teeth and now both my last-born and my last knit sweater were disappearing down the road. I don’t know if knitters have any terminology for the reverse of knit one, pearl two, but whatever it might be it was happening rapidly right there on my very own torso. My sweater was disappearing from the bottom up.
I waved my arms frantically hoping the driver would see me in her mirror. She did. Through the bus window I saw her sketch of a wave—her thumb and forefinger had formed a circle of success. The driver’s foot, now heavy with conquest, shoved the pedal to the metal. Simultaneously the bus lurched forward and belched a beluga size balloon of sickly-gray exhaust. It hung there in the still autumnal air in the shape of a giant exclamation mark—an odious testament of triumph over tenderhearted fathers, family and hand knit sweaters.
It was with heavy heart and a lightened sweater that I turned and walked down the drive. Would Ann believe my more than bizarre story? Should I take the sweater off and bury it in the garbage can? Perhaps Ann wouldn’t miss it, then perhaps she would. I opted for the truth, strange as it was. Ann listened, suppressed a smile, then gave the hopeful promise that she could mend and re-knit.
Unravelings come into every life. And not surprisingly they come more frequently as the weight of each succeeding year gets heaped unrelentingly on the scale of time. One can only hope and pray that there are loving and willing menders and re-knitters standing by when you encounter the yellow dragons of life. Of course the best assurance of that happening is if you can look in a mirror every day and see a loving and willing mender and knitter reflected there.
This story is an excerpt from Swimming the Sun by Jack Jenkins. You can listen to Jack's audio version of this story by following the link.