15-year-old Jo Evelyn Barlow walked down the school bus aisle and slid into a two-person seat near her 12-year-old sister Becky, never imagining the morning would become the stuff of bedtime stories.
Her best friend Kathleen was home sick, so Jo Evelyn daydreamed quietly, oblivious to the various conversations around her.
As the gleaming 1940’s model school bus climbed the steep grades to the homes of the schoolchildren, Jo Evelyn studied the colorful foliage that flew past on Green Valley Road. As she peered down the plunging dropoff right next to the window, she was thankful the bus driver, young C.R. Roarke, was known for his safe driving.
Lossie and Vera
Suddenly the bus pulled to a stop on Pine Mountain Road. Jo Evelyn frowned. No children lived here.
She strained to see out the window. Two women, Lossie and Vera, stood facing the bus, suitcases in hand. Jo Evelyn decided they must be asking C.R. for a ride towards North Wilkesboro. She knew Lossie was visiting from somewhere out west.
Politely, C.R. waited for the women to board the bus and situate their suitcases at the front above the steps. The children stared at the ladies for a moment, then resumed their quiet conversations. The women stood at the front and visited, then took a seat.
The bus continued its climb. Jo Evelyn didn’t know when she’d seen Vera so fancy on a regular day. Both the women, well in their fifties, wore hats; Lossie had a red rose pinned on her coat.
The bus hit a bump, and one of the suitcases toppled. C.R. jerked to catch it. Jo Evelyn gasped as she watched his other hand jerk the wheel to the right.
The bus tipped, hovered for a long moment, and lurched sideways down the bank.
Jo Evelyn’s screams mixed with the others’ as they smashed into the ceiling, into each other, and under seats. The bus crashed down the hill: side, top, side, bottom, side.
Louis Price, who’d missed the bus that day, watched the wreck as it happened. Papers were flying out the windows as the huge child-laden beast dumped onto the open field.
Eyes wide, he ran for help.
Jo Evelyn was the first to climb out the shattered windshield. “Becky! Has anyone seen Becky?” All around children crawled out of the wreckage. Becky wasn’t among them.
“Becky! Where’s Becky?” Jo Evelyn searched, but couldn’t find her sister. Little Elizabeth Ann Cornett cried as she studied her bloody knee. “They knocked my scab off!”
The Riverview High School teacher aboard the bus began counting the children. All but Becky had escaped. Jo Evelyn ran searching – and saw Becky advancing down the side of the overturned bus. Her face was covered in blood.
Dr. Robinson arrived with his bag. Amazed, he couldn’t find a single serious injury. Even Becky was well, despite the head scratches that looked worse than they were.
Mama was sweeping the front porch when the girls got home. She squinted at them.
“Why aren’t you in school?”
“The school bus wrecked! C.R. stopped to let on Lossie and Vera…”
“Oh, Mama, you shoulda seen Lossie’s poor rose and her smashed hat!”
“And I couldn’t find Becky…”
And so the story was told the first of many times.
I don’t know how many times Granny told us the story growing up, or if Aunt Becky told it as often to her grandkids, our cousins.
I wonder what happened to C.R. Roarke, the 19-or-so-year-old neighbor who got fired that day for driving the bus off the road, despite his reputation as an excellent driver.
I wonder what happened to Lossie and Vera, if they passed the story down for future generations or if they mutually pledged to carry it to their graves.
I wonder what happened to each of the other 42 passengers. I wonder if they lived daily in the certain knowledge that their lives had been spared for a purpose.
I wonder how many times our lives have been spared and we never even knew it – even in the lives of our forebears. His mercy really does endure for ever. And boy, am I glad.
How has your life been miraculously spared, and how did it affect you? I’d love to hear your story! 🙂