School Bus Filled with Memories [nostalgia]

I became nostalgic of my childhood after my high school class held its 40th reunion in July (which I missed but saw pictures of on Facebook) and the school season began last week for most of the children living in my area, while others began the season today. As it was when I was a child, township, county, and state lines decide what school each child goes to, which can alienate neighborhood friends by sending them to different school districts. I had a next-door neighbor who went to a rival school because the district line separated our properties. We were best friends during the three months of summer, and then barely saw each other during the rest of the year. We both rode buses—the yellow ones with flashing amber and crimson lights on them—and we would wave at each other while standing in front of our homes at seven o’clock in the morning, waiting for our rides. This was during the 1960s, so we weren’t privileged to cell phones. If such a thing had existed back then, we would have talked to and texted each other, and kept one another abreast of our lives instead of waving from our designated places that seemed miles apart from each other along our country road.

If you were a child who rode a bus in from the country to school, you may have had to sit on the edge of a seat along the aisle because of overcrowding. I spent those days from first grade to third grade learning how to balance myself on the edge of a seat without falling. By fourth grade, another bus added to our school lessened the amount of students crammed inside my bus. When that happened, I discovered the comfort of sitting fully in a seat. The only discomfort I recall was having the back of my head attacked by straight pins older kids shot through drinking straws.

Riding the back seats of the bus was a privilege reserved for older students, and most of the country boys that usually occupied them were ornery and mean when they had to wear starchy school clothes and spend their days indoors instead of out. Hijinks from them abounded when the many stops at houses occupied the bus driver. Younger students learned early to safeguard their lunchboxes, lest they arrive at school with no food to eat.

I enjoyed school, so despite the straight pins and occasional wedgie, my morning rides on the bus were filled with delicious anticipation. I made many friends on my bus until my father moved us to town so he could be closer to his job. I missed riding the bus most of all.

School buses traveling on sticky, tarry roads have a unique sound. It’s a haunting music to my ears fifty years later, and I have awakened often to the raspy six o’clock sound of bus tires singing to me during August, September, and October when the bedroom windows are still open. They sing a siren’s song of bygone days that I wish I could relive, if only for a week of waving to my neighbor and best friend who died five years ago from cancer. Of sitting on the bus with school chums that have moved away to distant places. Of talking about the latest Johnny Quest cartoon with that girl who said she was a tomboy and proud of it. Of trading baseball cards and lunches with an older boy named Frank who was killed in Viet Nam. Of riding home with the windows down at 60 miles an hour on those hot days when going home was the best feeling in the world after a long day at school. To do that would be the greatest “blast from the past” in the world.

A Look At Seasons

I looked at the wall calendar to see today’s date and saw how close we are to the end of another month. It seems like August began last week instead of three weeks ago. And it seems like June was a month ago instead of two. Time seems to fly past us unnoticed when we pay least attention to it.

Although August is one of our longest months, I had a schoolteacher who called it the February of summer. She divided the calendar in half and placed the first six months in a horizontal line across a wall, then placed the last six below them so there were two rows of months on the wall. The first row held winter and spring; the second held summer and autumn. This way, we students could compare and contrast the seasons.

Calendar

Using her illustration, the top row held dominance over the bottom row. July was the January of summer, August the February of summer, etc., on to ending with December as the June of autumn. It seemed strange referring to December as a part of autumn, but that’s the way she taught. After all, the winter solstice is usually December 21/22, which makes the shortest day of the year for us in the north hemisphere the beginning of our winter. The days before that and after summer are autumn.

By comparing December with June, she told us that both months were times best spent with families. She compared and contrasted the beginning of our summer vacation away from school in June with our winter and Christmas vacations in December. Of course, we argued that our winter vacation should include January and February to correlate with our July and August vacations, but she reminded us the importance of going to school. Still, after all the many years that have passed since her lesson, I look forward to being with family every June as much as I do every December. Whereas June is for doing things together outdoors, December is a time to do things together indoors.

Continuing with my teacher’s chart of seasons and the philosophy behind them, January is a time of long nights—a great time for snuggling with mom and/or dad and reading an epic book aloud; July is a time of long days—perfect for outdoor activities when it isn’t raining. February is the shortest and coldest month—another good month for snuggling with loved ones; August is long and often hot—the best time for swimming. March is the end of winter—a sad time for children (young and old) who love the snow; September is the end of summer—a sad time for children who don’t like school. I would like to add that this was also a sad time for my mom who enjoyed having us kids home. Mom loved spending time with children, which made her a great mom to my brothers and me, and a favorite aunt to my cousins. To counter the sadness of those two months, I have added that March is a time when warmth returns to the north, and September is that time when the days and nights are not too hot or cold. For two of my brothers, September is the start of football season and a time for yelling at the television. Speaking of TV, September is the start of new episodes for my anxious wife, children and grandchildren. For me, I like it that the baseball teams are in spring training during March (baseball is my favorite sport), and that many of my favorite authors release their new books in September.

Continuing with my teacher’s map, April is the dawn of spring and its promise of colorful flowers—a type of birth; October is the end of harvest—a type of death, but with the promise of good things to come from the ripeness of our harvest. May is a month of bountiful flowers—a time of color and beauty; November is a month to share our bounty with others—another time of color and beauty together. And, as I said earlier, June and December are good months to spend with our families.

So, no matter what time of the year, I look forward to the seasons that lie in store.

The Shortcuts In My Writing

Still busy writing, which is a good thing. But in between writing are all those other things in life that must be dealt with. One of those important things is creating covers for my books. I’m a self-published author who has no budget to pay others to do what I need done, so having some skill at drawing has been helpful.

Designing book covers from start to finish can take as long as writing stories. Because I write fantasy, time spent writing a novel and making a cover can take years. I know few authors who can crank out fantasy novels in less than a year. Fantasy hinges on building new worlds and other-than-typical-persons-on-the-street characters. To tell it all—or to show it by today’s standard of “show don’t tell”—requires a huge amount of detail to bring it all to life. This takes a lot of time to do. Often, by the time I have written the story’s final draft, I’m anxious to get it into the readers’ hands before I’ve finished the cover. But good packaging is as important as having a good product, which means long hours at the drawing board

Recently, I began designing the covers during breaks in my writing schedule. Artists love shortcuts that will save time and give excellent results. I shortcut my illustration time by concentrating on one or two important story elements to depict on the covers. Lots of white space—or dark space, in my case—with bold contrasts has made for some pleasing work.

I hope I don’t sound like a hack or a lazy writer when I admit this, but I shortcut big fantasy elements in my stories. Fantasy books can end up mega-huge. But fantasy stories set in an essentially real world takes less pages to tell and less time to write about. Trust me, it takes fewer words to describe something familiar to readers than to describe something they have never seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched. This is probably why there is a lot of urban fantasy on the market. Things we recognize lessen the time authors spend writing. And good authors—epic book authors included—shortcut as well as any good artist. We call it editing, killing our babies, getting to the point.

So, ’nuff said ’bout the mechanics for now. Back to writing fantasy.