By Kelly Hines
I drive the girls to school every morning, and pick them up every afternoon. It requires that I put on a bra, and load everyone in the car, and drive to two different schools in my very environmentally unfriendly vehicle. The total in-car time for both trips is right around an hour and a quarter. It is inconvenient, and yet I don’t mind at all.
The morning drive is significantly different than the afternoon one. Bellies full of pancakes, sleep still in their eyes, my children are as quiet as they ever are. Julia might comment on the weather, Katie might read, Henry – still in his pajamas – might make quiet brrrmmm brrrmmm sounds as he runs a toy car over his leg. The radio is rarely on. Mostly, we just watch.
It is a quick trip to Katie’s school; six miles down a freeway that seems to cut through a forest. Overnight, the trees have gone from green to a soft yellow. There is no traffic; there is never any traffic. Off the exit ramp, past the gas station and hardware store and we’re there. Middle school drop off is everything that middle schoolers are not – quick, effortless, organized. Katie ducks out with a quick kiss and the littles and I drive on.
If we’re lucky, we get behind a school bus. I like watching the bus chug down the road, in no big hurry. It stops in front of long driveways where mothers wrapped in worn robes stand, one hand clutching the top of the robe closed, the other holding a cup of coffee. Mornings are getting cooler here, pants are being worn for the first time in months. A mother, unprepared, watches a small boy board the bus, the hem of his jeans high, exposing white socks pulled over still tan ankles. She will have to go shopping soon.
As the bus pulls away, she raises a hand, and does not turn away until the bus is out of sight. She walks back down the driveway to the house, calling dogs and shooing cats. The house is the same house that dots much of the landscape here – modest and square, set back far from the road on more land than they can out to good use. It is different than the city-side of the county, where big houses sit on small lots, crowded together, putting the value in what sits on the land instead of the land itself.
But these people know, land is everything.
There are only a few miles separating the middle school from the elementary school, most of it farmland. Some of it pasture. On some mornings, cows or horses will be so far out to pasture, you can hardly tell them apart. On others, they lean over fences and chew slowly and give you that deep animal stare that seems to say, if only I had thumbs. The little ones will exclaim, cow!, as if there were an elephant on the side of the road, and not an animal they’ve seen nearly every day of their lives.
But mostly, we pass corn. Rows and endless rows of corn. For the first few weeks of school, it stands tall and green and proud. Slowly, the fields age and turn brown and brittle until one day, the corn is gone, cut down to a bristle brush. There is no need for calendars or proclamations by weathermen, the corn knows and tells us – fall is here.
Where there is not corn, there are soybeans.
Soybeans. There used to be tobacco in those fields, I can nearly guarantee it.
Then the last half mile, up the hill where the sun breaks through the low fog. A red silo. A small house. Acres and acres of fertile ground and the ghosts of generations who’ve worked it. A dog and a rusty mailbox on a crooked post and then, out of nowhere, a little school. A line of cars and smiling teachers, hustling children out and collecting backpacks and lunchboxes and Julia kisses me once, then again, before running into the building.
The morning ride home is shorter, down a different road peppered with newer neighborhoods and small businesses. I am suddenly lonely, and turn on the radio. I look in the rearview mirror at Henry, and he waits to see if I’ll say the same thing I say every morning. I do. “So, what are we going to do today, Boy-o?”