Riding to School

The Alabama Humanities Foundation will sponsor a traveling exhibition called “Journey Stories” in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution beginning June 25 in Jasper. This post is the first in a series that will highlight our own personal journey stories. Our stories may include how our ancestors traveled from far away lands to come to America, or it could be about a memorable family trip to anywhere in the world, or perhaps it’s a story about our first car or train ride. Anything that includes travel and transportation can be considered our own journey story. If you would like to submit your own journey story, please email Jennifer Dome at: jdome@ahf.net.

By Billie Jean Young, AHF Board member

When I started school in Pennington, Alabama, in the late fifties, we rode to school in a pickup truck every morning with Mr. Tom Bryant. He would drop us off at the elementary school and go on to deliver older kids to the high school a few miles farther up in the hills in the Indian Springs community. Our pickup truck had a body built over the back with a doorway for us to enter by stepping over the tailgate. It had a few chairs and seats back there as well. Mr. Tom Bryant could be sure we wouldn’t fall off the back and spill out on the road. We might get tossed around a bit back there, but it would mostly consist of being tossed into and against the person seated next to you. Mr. Tom Bryant knew that, at the very least, we would all be there when he arrived at the school. He would drive us to Miss Kate’s at Thompkinsville Elementary and speed on off to Indian Springs to get those high school students there on time.

Afternoons, we weren’t so lucky. When school let out at 3:00, Mr. Tom Bryant wasn’t there to pick us up to go home since he would be at Indian Springs High School picking up the high school students. As soon as school let out every day we walked the two miles home through the woods. There would usually be five or six children from two to four families walking through the woods to the road to get home. We were first-through-sixth-graders, the oldest probably being around 12. During the time I walked through those woods until we transferred to the high school, I don’t remember any kind of disturbance or fighting among us. Our single minded ambition was to make the trek home. We younger ones obeyed the older ones whether they were your siblings or not and we took their counsel if we encountered snakes or “tappin” turtles. (A tappin turtle would not let go of your finger until it thundered, so the story went, so we were cautioned to never pet one!) Deer, rabbits and squirrels got out of our way as we made our noisy way along the path. We would usually become aware of their presence as they scampered away from us and made noise rustling bushes and weeds.

On the way home there was a low place near the creek that would fill up with water if the creek rose and we would have to navigate it across a log, always a harrowing balancing act for me. I was glad to make it to Indian Springs when they sent us there in sixth grade a year early, just prior to school Freedom of Choice and eventual integration of schools. Mr. Tom Bryant had bought a yellow school bus by then. And even though he ran out of gas regularly, he still drove up to the filling station and ordered $1 or $2 worth of gas at a time and managed to sound as important and confident as if he were saying “fill ‘er up.” We would tease Mr. Tom Bryant sometimes but he seldom had to chastise anybody. He did not have any children of his own, but he was a good-natured soul, and could be depended on not to mention slight infractions to your parents. We laughed and even joked about his being too cheap to buy a tank of gas at one time, but we were glad to be riding a regular school bus. There was plenty wrong with it, but we loved it and saw it as a great improvement with its built-in seats, instead of that pickup truck with the chairs sliding around and us bumping into each other. That was before we named our “new” bus Old Death. But that is, indeed, another story for another journey.