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Father’s Day post: Building something that will last

June 22, 2020

I neglected yesterday to post the story of the Bus House, which is my annual Father’s Day tribute to my Dad. Here it is. (This first appeared here in 2012. I hope you enjoy it.  By the way, I still have that Charlie Brown lunchbox.)


From our big picture window, the skinny white building at the end of the gravel road looked like a sentinel, standing at attention against the backdrop of a cold, gray Texas sky.

Bundled in my winter gear – the ski mask reminded me of Dr. X, one of the bad guys from the “Championship Wrestling” show on Friday night – I trudged the quarter-mile route carrying my metal, Charlie Brown lunchbox and perhaps a few worries over what the new school day would bring.

The path ended at the cattle guard, which lay between two handsome red brick pillars. Just this side of the last barrier between our farm and the road to town stood what we all called simply “the bus house.”

In my early school days, the closet-sized structure was built with precision by my carpenter father and seemingly popped up one morning next to the hay field. This was a curiosity for many in our area, who scratched their heads at the sight. It seems that some folks found the bus house an object of derision. Words escaped others, who only could behold it in what might be called silent reverence.

For me, this was a place of warm security where a young boy harbored dreams of places more exciting that Coleman Park Road and a world beyond the borders of Iowa Park, Texas.

The warmth was provided by a space heater plugged into an outlet in the corner of the tile floor. On subfreezing days, Dad stopped there before daylight to switch it on as he drove away to his civil service job at Sheppard Air Force Base.

By the time I stepped inside an hour later, the temperature was toasty. Just right for relaxing while waiting for the bus. Some days I almost fell to sleep. The furnishing was purely practical: a simple built-in bench. My radio had a place of prominence on the bench, along with a well-worn pencil.

I can’t remember ever sitting there without a pencil in my hand. By the time I had grown big enough to drive to school or catch a ride from friends, the inside walls were covered from ceiling to floor with sketches: Everything from tic tack toe boards to angry-faced soldiers blasting machine guns to muscled-up super heroes.

On the outside, I suppose it must have been rather comedic, like some kind of super-luxury outhouse. It was perhaps 6-feet-tall, had a shingled roof and a perfectly designed front door with a glass window to be certain I could see the bus coming. Dad, wearing his trademark overalls and straw cowboy hat, had applied two or three good coats of white paint.

Every school morning, big yellow Bus No. 2 would pull up slowly between the pillars, cross over the black, iron cattle guard and stop just in front of my door. Up and down the row of windows, widening eyes would examine the bus house, my sanctuary, and make their private judgments. Then the door would pop open, and I would appear, only having to make a few steps before climbing on board. Occasionally, there was a sneer. But most seemed to admire my little home-not-very-far-away-from home. Wild stories began to circulate about what type of fancy decor might be inside. A few wanted to know: Did I live in there?

Over the years, reaction to the unusual building generally divided my peers into two groups: One side was impressed that I had somehow gained such elaborate accommodations. Others were jealous, and I can’t really say I blame them. I did not have the sense to fully appreciate the love that my father’s work represented. I look back now and see that I probably behaved as if I somehow deserved my very own bus house. How maddening! As if I had more of a right to be warm than anyone else!

Or perhaps to my friends and neighbors, my beloved bus house looked like a guard house – a barrier between us and them — positioned strategically across the cattle guard, ready at any time to spit out a sentry who would challenge potential trespassers with a “Halt! Who goes there!?”

Such ideas never crossed my mind at the time.

It was only later that I learned hatred for the bus house had apparently boiled over one dark night. Or maybe it was just a prank. At any rate, someone snuck onto the farm and covered the outer walls with obscenities. I have always imagined that the secret artist was laughing while doing his dirty deed, thinking of the shocked faces of the children along the windows in Bus No. 2 or the startled driver, mouth agape.

If that was the intent, the plan was thwarted. The perpetrator never got to admire his handiwork in the light of day. I only learned later what happened.

I had been sleeping when my mother returned from the night classes she was taking in Wichita Falls. The headlights of her Buick crossing the cattle guard spotlighted the horrific scene: My special place covered with words that good Baptist boys only whispered and wouldn’t even write on their book covers. At least not with bold letters.

Never a man of many words, my father was spurred to quiet action, a trait I would recognize in him many other times in the years to come. He walked to his shop, found a can of Latex and a brush, and spent the night repainting the bus house – restoring it to its original, sinless hue. When the sun rose the next morning, the work of the night marauder(s) was nowhere to be seen. The bus came and went like it always did, and I was spared much embarrassment.

The bus house could serve other roles on the weekend, such as a fort or a hiding place in hide and go-seek. Later, I came to realize that it served practical purposes that went beyond my narrow elementary school world. “Just turn at the little white house” elicited knowing nods from those seeking their way to my parents’ domino parties or to buy bales of hay from Dad.

But eventually and inevitably, the bus house became troublesome for me. Entering my teen years, I shot up in height and had to stoop ever farther to enter and exit the door. Like a child who begins to shun the suddenly claustrophobic attention of parents, I was making my break from the bus house. When it was dragged off its concrete blocks and carried off to a spot behind the barn for the last time, I was well past wanting any association with it.

Today, the brick pillars are weathered and chipped, and they no longer appear noble. Tall grass obscures the spot where the bus house assumed its post on the way to our home. Even the old farm house is wasting away, racked by age and overseen by caretakers who admittedly lack my father’s skill and loving maintenance.

But, when I lay awake at night and think of these things, I begin to realize that Dad’s quiet, determined work has stood the test of time.



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