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Published: Saturday, 3/24/2007

At last, the school bus stops for her

ADRIAN The big yellow bus was No. 32. Elijah, Joe, Ashton, Trey, Andrew, Brockelle, and the other children assured me it was our bus. They know. They wait at the corner of Elm and Bristol streets in Adrian every morning on school days for Denise Ery to open the door of their bus to take them to school.

The only adult in the school bus line and the only person without a backpack was undoubtedly more excited to climb aboard than the children.

It was my first school bus ride, ever. I loved it from the time I found a seat next to Madeline Sherick, a fifth-grader at Drager Middle School, until the children who didn t get off at Drager filed off the bus and into Michener Elementary School. Madeline gave me a pencil because my pen had frozen while waiting for the bus. She confided that she had Ramen soup and pudding in her backpack for lunch and that gym was her favorite subject.

Blade columnist Mary Alice Powell chats as the bus heads for an Adrian school. Blade columnist Mary Alice Powell chats as the bus heads for an Adrian school.
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A fresh four-inch cover of snow made it a perfect winter morning to experience a school bus ride. I was afraid there might be a cancellation or a delay because of the snow, but Bill Stump, transportation supervisor for Adrian and Hudson schools, had checked the roads and given the OK. Mr. Stump often is out in his truck by 4 a.m. on winter days testing road conditions.

It was cold and wet waiting for the bus in the snow, but it had its entertaining moments. One parent delivered his child on a snowmobile. Two dogs followed children to the stop and frolicked in the snow until the bus left. One boy rode his bicycle to the stop, but an older buddy helped him return it home and got back before our bus came.

Were the children who were without hats and mittens cold? They said they weren t. With all the winter gear I could muster and still walk through the snow, I was chilled to the bone before the bus came. The numbing feet and hands reminded me of the harsh Michigan winters during my 12 years of schooling in Adrian.

Denise Ery, who has been a bus driver for 30 years, has transported generations of Adrian students. Denise Ery, who has been a bus driver for 30 years, has transported generations of Adrian students.
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We did not have school buses. Therefore, we did not have snow days. If we missed school it was because our parents agreed we were sick enough to stay home.

We walked because there were always one or two friends to join us. It was nearly two miles to Lincoln School, for kindergarten through sixth grade, and the same distance to Adrian s junior and senior high schools. It seems that I was cold and wet from December until April. We wore wool snow suits in grade school, and legs chap when unlined wool is wet. How well I remember the salve that never soothed. In the upper grades we wore skirts and knee stockings for warmth. Slacks were for boys only.

We did not have backpacks and we carried our lunches in brown paper bags or lunch pails. Did you ever wonder what is in the backpacks that every school child seems to have harnessed to his back? The answer, according to my new young friends, is not just books and lunch, but iPods, CD players, Game Boys, and cell phones. Can they use them on the bus? Of course they do, their driver said.

The trip that transported 60 elementary and middle-school students to two schools took only 20 minutes. One child warned that the ride would be bumpy, but I was too busy chatting with the children and recalling Adrian neighborhoods that we passed to notice. The seats were comfortable but there were no seat belts.

The children confided that Ms. Ery warned them the day before that a newspaper lady would be at the bus stop and they should be on their best behavior. Looking backward from my front-row seat, I saw a solid mass of smiling faces in a wide range of ages. Ms. Ery, who has been driving Adrian Public School buses for 30 years, believes the ride is a social event for the children. It gives them time to socialize before school with their friends.

Mary Alice Powell waits at the bus door while her fellow passengers board. Mary Alice Powell waits at the bus door while her fellow passengers board.
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Occasionally, she spoke kindly, but emphatically, on the microphone to ask those students who were standing to sit down, and named them by name. She knows most of her passengers by name, especially those who are reprimanded more often. But many are on the same bus each year, Delaney Henry added to explain how they are known by name. Delaney is Ms. Ery s 7-year-old granddaughter who moved up to sit with me when Madeline got off the bus.

The veteran driver, who grew up without school bus service in Lincoln Park, Mich., and who trains new bus drivers, wouldn t want any other job. I just love the kids and watching them grow up. Some are second generation on my routes. I am amazed at what may come out of their mouths. Once in a while they have a bad morning at home and bring it on the bus, but not too often.

Her day begins at 6 a.m. when she makes two trips to northeastern Lenawee County. The Adrian bus program transports seventh through 12th grade students first before picking up the kindergarten through six graders.

Mrs. Ery scores high on Halloween and Valentine s Day when she skirts the rule of no food or drink on the bus and lets her passengers have just one candy from their loot. How can you say no to them? she said.

Of all the things that have changed on the American landscape, the yellow school bus remains constant. I am grateful I finally had a turn, and I want to thank the children on No. 32 for letting me share their big yellow bus.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com.

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