It was a warm spring day, my freshman year in high school. The bus was filled with teenagers and carnations. We’d had a fundraiser at school where you could send a carnation to friend. These carnations were our proof that we had friends. The more carnations you had, the more popular you were. Maybe it was the other way around.
There was laughing and yelling and flirting. All the things you expect on a high school bus. Other than the carnations, it was a typical bus ride home.
At the first stop, the bus driver stood up. This usually meant we’d been being a little too loud. We waited to see who it was that was in trouble. Fred, our driver, was a nice old guy. He was fair, and he’d been driving most of us since elementary school, and we didn’t pay him a whole lot of attention. Fred was just part of your day. He was the first adult outside your home to greet you each morning, the guy who drove you home and wouldn’t let you get off at the wrong stop. We were rarely in trouble with Fred. When he did stand up, we listened. He had a quiet command of the bus.
Fred started to talk with us. He said it was going to be his last day driving us. Silence swept through the bus, we were not expecting this. Then, he started to cry. His cancer had come back and the doctor told him he had to stop driving. None of us had known he had cancer. If we had, our teenage minds probably would not have really thought much about it. But, here was this guy that we were just used to, that we liked, crying.
Then, he sat down and opened the door. The first group of kids started to get off the bus. At the head of the group was probably the toughest guy on the bus. He clasped Fred on the shoulder then dropped his carnation in the metal basket on the dashboard. The next kid dropped their carnation in the basket. My bus stop was the last stop; I was one of the last to get off the bus that day. Every carnation went in the basket. Not one kid failed to do this. It was our teenage way of telling Fred we loved him. It was our way of saying goodbye.
I’d never seen my peers give an adult such deep respect. Fred had touched every one of us. His quiet steady love had transported us much further than just to and from school. We never saw or heard about Fred again. I don’t remember the bus driver that replaced him. When someone says “bus driver”, I picture Fred. I plant carnations in my garden, they remind me of that bus ride and of the power love has over all of us.