39: The Girls on the Bus

39: The Girls on the Bus

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

The Girls on the Bus

There are many wonderful things that will never be done if you do not do them.

~Charles D. Gill

As I backed my car out of Mom’s driveway, I asked her a question. “Have you taken the senior bus yet?” I held my breath as I waited for her answer.

Mom adjusted her seatbelt and stared straight ahead.

Emphasizing each word, she said, “Oh-yes-I-did.” There was an uncomfortable silence.

Finally, I asked, “How was it?” I said the words as cheerfully as I could manage, even though I sensed the answer was not going to be positive.

“Well,” she said, once again with emphasis, “I called the Senior Center and made the arrangements for the bus to take me to the grocery store. When they came to the house the next morning, I climbed on and looked down the aisle. And what do you think I saw? I’ll tell you what.” She clenched her hands. “I saw about thirteen depressing little old ladies and one depressing old man.”

Something clutched my stomach, and I didn’t know if it was sympathy for her plight, fear that she’d refuse to use this helpful transportation, or anger that she maligned what she needed desperately.

More silence. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that in her own mind she thought that now she was one of them. My dad had recently passed away after six weeks in the hospital. He had been in a coma after surgery for an aortic aneurysm that burst while he was having an MRI. The long hours of waiting and hoping all those weeks had taken a toll on my mother and the rest of the family, too.

Mom had seemed to wear down a little more each day as she watched and waited in the hospital, but she got through the many decisions each time another crisis arose and finally agreed to disconnect life support. Then, surrounded by her children, their spouses and her grandchildren, she reigned graciously at the visitation and funeral.

When the family left to go back to their own lives, she was suddenly alone and frightened. For fifty-seven years, my dad had walked by her side. He had always told her, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it.”

Dad took an early retirement twenty years before his death. These were years my parents were always together. Mom never learned to drive, so Dad chauffeured her everywhere, on errands to the grocery store, to get her hair cut, or whatever she needed. Now, her wheels were gone, as one grandchild so aptly described her situation.

I spent the week after the funeral helping Mom with paperwork and other chores, and I contacted the local Senior Center to inquire about transportation for her. I teased her, saying she could now see her tax dollars at work and get some real benefit from them. She agreed, although reluctantly, that she’d need to use the senior bus since I lived an hour and a half away.

Now, as we drove to the shopping center, I thought about what courage it had taken for her to call that first time and then to ride the bus with other seniors. As I wove in and out of traffic, Mom changed the subject. We didn’t discuss the bus again that day.

The following weeks, when I came to visit, she would mention the bus and often end by saying, “No one ever talks on that bus. They all sit there staring into space and looking sad.” Her mouth turned downward, and she heaved a great sigh.

I thought to myself that surely couldn’t last too long, not with my mother on board. Mom grew up in a small coal-mining town in Iowa where she knew everyone. She often waited for her father at the mine at the end of his shift and chattered constantly on the long walk home. Even as an adult, living in a large metropolitan area, she chatted to clerks in the stores or the mailman walking down the street as if she’d known them forever. I couldn’t imagine her sitting silently on the bus, but her life had changed so drastically, and she wasn’t the same person anymore. I so hoped to see a spark of life in her on one of my visits, but how to bring it about escaped me.

I worried needlessly, for after several more weeks went by, I noticed that many of Mom’s sentences began with “The girls on the bus told me…” After hearing the same phrase on several visits, I dared to hope.

One day, as she made tea for us, I asked, “So, they talk to you now?”

She smiled and there was a sparkle in her eye, the first real sign of life I’d seen in her for many months. She poured the steaming tea into my cup and picked up a cookie before she answered. “I decided one day that it was silly, all of us sitting there saying nothing. So I climbed on the bus one morning and greeted them all. Then I remarked on what a nice day it was. I think I scared them at first. It took a few tries, but little by little they began to respond. And now we have some good conversations, and it makes everyone’s life a little nicer.”

She slid the plate of homemade cookies to my side of the table, and in my great relief, I ate several.

My mother had little formal education and had done very little on her own while Dad was alive. Nevertheless, she held the key to open the hearts of the other lonely people on that bus. A smile and a friendly word or two was all it took. She sowed tiny seeds of happiness for herself and the girls on the bus.

~Nancy Julien Kopp

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