One of my favorite stories to tell about my mom is from when she used to drive a school bus. Mom loved to drive. She drove the delivery van for my family’s machine shop—and she made friends with every person working the loading docks at every company she delivered to. On the days that I would drive the van I’d be greeted with a slight tone of alarm, “Where’s Jane today? Is she OK?”

I have vague memories of when I was very young and sitting in the front seat of the brown pickup truck while Mom delivered for my Dad’s first company. I’d ride around with her in the mornings and then she’d get me home on time to catch the bus for afternoon kindergarten. She'd pull up to some building, and say in Polish "Stay here, I'll be right back." Then some man with grease stained clothes would take something that my Dad made out of metal from the back of the truck. Then she'd take me home to get lunch and get on the bus. I remember when it was picture day she frantically dragged me into Caldor’s to buy a new sweater to wear. It had light blue stripes on it, and I remember it got stuck on me when we were in the dressing room. We wrestled with it and I tried not to panic. She left it on me, paid, and the put me on the bus to go to school for picture day. At night we’d wrestle again to get the sweater off.

But when I was in third grade she started driving a school bus. By then my Dad’s company had merged with another machine shop and they had a driver. So, Mom didn’t drive the van anymore. She took up school bus driving instead. She’d back her massive bus into our driveway on breaks, or at the end of the school day. Sometimes she drove the high school sports teams in the evenings for overtime and didn’t bother to return the bus to the lot. She’d back the long bus down the driveway and then convince me to sweep it out for her.

In the mornings in third grade I rode the bus with her before I went to school. She didn’t drive the route that went by our house, but eventually she’d go to Broad Brook Elementary to drop off her load of kids, so I just went with her so I wouldn’t be alone in the house in the mornings. I packed a travel cup of tea oversweetened and over lemoned, and walked alongside her with her matching travel cup of coffee, milk no sugar.

When I was in seventh grade she was on her last year driving the bus. It was a job that worked out well. She was off work on the same exact days we were off school. She got paid overtime for driving to sports games in the evenings—and she took all those runs because she could get paid to watch my brother and sister play. By the time I played night games she didn’t drive the bus anymore. In that time my mom hand sewed repairs to the bus seats when some wiseass kid knifed them. She was given the runs to the worse neighborhoods in East Windsor, and she didn’t put up with any shit from those kids. If they misbehaved she pulled the bus to the side of the road and waited until they behaved. Those kids got to school late, got home late, and eventually they caught on. Most kids called her Jane. But those kids from the rough neighborhood called her Mrs. Kruzel and they didn’t even think of misbehaving on that bus anymore.

Her last day driving the bus was my last day of seventh grade. Early in the morning before school a few of her bus driver friends came over. I don’t know what they were doing, as I was busy getting my last day of school outfit just right. That outfit was crucial, as it’s what I’d be remembered by for the entire summer. I had to get it right.

I wasn’t on her bus that year. But some of my friends were. My friends were late to school that year--it wasn't unusual they were late a few times due to Mom pulling off the road to wait for them to settle down before she drove them all the way to school.

When her bus finally pulled up to East Windsor Middle School, well after all the other ones had gone, she opened the door and water with bits of colored latex cascaded down the steps onto the curb. Most of the kids were wet as they hopped down the stairs. She waved them off as they thanked her and wished her a good day.

I asked my friends why they were late and why they were so wet. Turns out my mom and her bus driver friends had been making water balloons at our house that morning. Mom pulled the bus over, stood in the aisle with her hands behind her back, and thanked her riders for being good that year. Then from behind her back she started pelting the kids with water balloons. A few of them had squirt guns and shot back at her. She emptied her arsenal, drenched the kids, got back behind the wheel and drove them to school.

I wonder how many kids remember her doing that. Recently a friend from high school posted to me on Facebook about how she was scared to ride the bus when we were kids. But because my Mom had an accent, and my friend’s Mom also had an accent, my Mom made her feel safe riding to school on the bus. I was proud that my Mom had that effect on her, and I hope that those kids are telling the story about getting into a water balloon fight with the heavily accented bus driver on the way to the last day of school.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.