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“I Hit my Head Falling out of the Short Bus on the Way to Kindergarten”

 

“Uh-oh he said ‘short bus’!!

 

            We moved to Alaska in the Summer of 1952. We went by 1948 Plymouth pulling our home behind us. It was an eventful trip. We were leaving the orange groves of Riverside County and the next stop was the frozen beauty of the Territory of Alaska. My father had been assigned to Fort Richardson outside of Anchorage and this was a plum assignment versus say a trip to the equally frozen confines of the wartorn peninsula of Korea. I was just shy of my fifth birthday and the first day was ominous. A bright “sunrise” in the East over the desert of Nevada … a nuclear bomb exploded and we watched in amazement; it was duly noted in my mother’s diary; Lee slept through it; and then I laid back down on my floor board bed and went back to sleep. Not everyone can start an adventurous trip with a literal bang.

            The rest of the trip was not as exciting but it was long. I had my birthday at some Milepost of the Alcan Highway and I remember that I received a bag of Brach’s Candy.

 

 

It was probably the only candy available in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. We also had salmon steaks from the river. The rest of the trip is a combination of mountains and mosquitoes. Both items being in abundance.

 

            We arrived in Anchorage after weeks of traveling and found residence in the Officer’s Trailer Court outside of East Gate of Elmendorf Air Force Base. And this location seemed to have been picked for my enjoyment as we were either on the arrival or departure runway of every Air Force type of fighter and transport. Noisy but exciting.

 

 

 

We arrived in July so we had a few weeks before school. The sun was up all the time and it was hard to go to bed with all the space in which we had to play. The trailer court was laid in military precision with two crossing avenues and a wash house/shower/meeting area in the middle. The rest of the area was stolen moose habitat. We were admonished severely from entering the woods as we would be instantly eaten by bears; trampled by moose or consumed by angry poisonous mushrooms. I ate the first two willingly but only by hidden circumvention have I consumed the poisoned mushrooms.

            But the great weather was about to change. I was born in California after my parents had sex in Panama. I was not psychologically prepared for the winter to come. But inevitably it did. School and cooler weather arrived about the same time. Now I can recall more about Mrs. Wade’s Nursey School in Riverside, California than I can about kindergarten and first grade at Elmendorf Air Force Base. And maybe here is why.

            Memories can be deceiving but of this event I remember it as if it was yesterday. I now have to admit that my brother and I rode the short bus to school. Oh the shame.

            My father worked at Fort Richardson as he was US Army but the Officer’s Trailer Court must have been joint Air Force/Army. This area was set aside for officers just as today officers’ housing is segregated from all other ranks. The closest school was on base and I remember that we were just outside the base perimeter and just down from East Gate on the Glenn Highway. I suppose we gathered at the washhouse and the ubiquitous blue Air Force GMC Carryall carried us to the base school.

            Now a little about that short bus. The Air Force used enclosed and heated Carryalls to move flight crews out to the flight line. Some, I forget if “ours”, were either a two or four door but they had bench seats, no seat belts and as many as could be jammed in were.

            It was a typical dark Alaska morning and the roads were snow covered but not snowbound. My brother and I being recently often naked Californians were now faced with bitter biting cold winds. We were warned repeatedly about sticking bare flesh or even tongue to metal as you would stick fastly frozen and could lose a layer of skin. It was so cold that when we showered at the wash house our mad dash back to the “house” froze our hair as hard as a brick; the radio was replete with stories of people “dying of exposure”. Thus we wore probably all we owned; were wrapped in many layers and bound tight with feet long scarves. We were girded for battle with the elements even though it was a short walk to the wash house and a short ride to school.

            On one cold morning we gathered and waited for the bus and it arrived and we children jammed into it. I was the littlest and the last which gave me the signal honor of clambering into the last seat which on this day was “shotgun” the right front door. If this was the two door variety, I had a single seat that folded up to let others climb in behind. As I had no one to talk to I closed my eyes. I liked to think that I knew the twists and turns of the short trip. Circle the wash house; out to the highway; turn right and go a ways and then the broad left into East Gate and the Air Police checkpoint and then ….

            And this time I got it wrong. I miscalculated. We drove onto the highway and headed for the broad left into East Gate … so far so good. We must have stopped waiting to turn left. My eyes tightly closed I imagined we had arrived and as the driver accelerated into his left turn I pulled the door handle firmly back. Vehicle speed, centrifugal forces and lack of restraint propelled me out and across the intersection rolling and tumbling on pavement and snow coming to a stop in a snow pile. The driver apparently slammed on his brakes and raced over. He carried or dragged this bag of snow clothes back to the truck where I was tossed back into the front seat. He slammed the door and off he drove the 100 feet to the gate. I can see clearly, even to this day; he rolled down his window and the AP stuck his white glove on the door sill.

            “Did you see what happened?”

            “I didn’t see anything.”

The glass rolled back up; the guard disappeared back into his warm shack; and we sped off to school. We were all deposited dutifully at the school house door and nothing further was said. My parents were never told; I was never questioned; my brother who had to have been in the bus never squealed or was blissfully ignorant of the whole affair.  I never related the incident to my parents. Ever.  I continued to ride the short bus to school and maybe for good reason.

 

Kent Herrick

November 6, 2017

 


 

            

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