4. The Fourth “R”—Riding the Bus


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OUR FRIEND, Mrs. King (wife of author-editor Frank M. King), when we met her during the rodeo at Tucson mentioned the story in Little Cowpuncher about our “Gringos.” She was so glad we published it because most people today have no idea that there are places in the United States where children still have to go through so much, just to go to school. Referring to the little Emerys who live far up in the mountains, she said “To think that young as they are they must get up so early every school morning, get their own breakfasts, and walk a mile over rocks and cactus before 6 a.m., then ride two hours more on the bus. Why it isn't even daylight at 6 o'clock this time of year!”

I told her that even at school these three have


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Commuters on Pascual's Regular Line
Edward Hernández Luis Badilla
Mary Hernández Herlinda Badilla
Marcela Hernández Dolores Badilla
Teresa Hernández Guadalupe Badilla
Ester Bedoy Inez Jane Emery
Frances Salazar Bill Emery
Cruz Sánchez Jack Emery
Prudencia Sánchez Alfredo Mendoza


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burdens to bear. They are blondes among dark-skinned contemporaries who outnumber them. And they are small. One noon hour while I was writing afternoon lessons on the board I noticed Bill Emery hunting through the Book of Knowledge. I asked what he was looking for.

“I'm trying to find gringo,” he said worriedly. “That's who they call me and I don't know what it means.”

One day I heard Jack Emery addressed by one of the big boys in this manner: “Hello, Jackass.”

It is surprising the extent to which children bear hardships without protest, even in America—where protest is not an unusual mode of communication. One morning I scolded Teddy because she was inattentive in class and didn't keep her marker on the place in her reading book. Mary, her oldest sister, came quietly to tell me that Teddy had been sick in the night. She had earache. She couldn't eat her breakfast, so they wanted her to stay at home. But when she began to cry and said she wasn't sick any more they let her come. She had not known how to defend herself, so she remained stoically calm—except to jump, startled, when I raised my voice the third time she missed her turn.

Our western ranch children are used to hardships. Once, at Redington School, the Valdez six forgot to bring their lunch. When one of the older pupils told me about it I went out to round them up and take them to the teacherage for something to eat. Manuel, embarrassed, and annoyed, said: “I can stay two days without eating.” He was nine years old.


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The Baboquívari School bus riders have astonishing fortitude. Tonight I know how uncomfortable their daily journeys are, for I took them home this afternoon, and my car has more easy-riding gadgets than their old, rickety bus.

Pascual, our bus driver, broke his drive shaft this morning coming down from Las Delicias. When I turned off the highway toward Poso Nuevo I overtook Edward and Bill Emery walking for help. We went back to Las Delicias to get Bill Ronstadt to tow Pascual into Tucson for repairs, and I brought the children, clinging all over the car, inside and out, to school. This evening, after the seventy-two-mile jog to deliver them and return, I am convinced that these children are paying high for their education.

It hadn't occurred to me that their endurance was extraordinary until, after a taste of their daily routine, I told them to write a “Complaint” column for Little Cowpuncher.

Indirectly, the idea came from Víctor. We were recording weights, and noting the good results from the troublesome school lunches. Troublesome indeed. Some trouble to Pascual who fires up my little cook stove and makes the cocoa each day, and trouble to me. I must do the shopping, advance the cash, make out accounts, and wait weeks for school officials to okay the triplicate invoices and authorize reimbursement. This, besides having my room crowded with groceries, and having to find time to make the sandwiches.

I reminded the ones on the underweight list that they must not let the extra food—sandwiches, cookies,


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cocoa, and fruit—take the place of their regular meals, for we wanted them to gain.

Ysidra, barred from the extra lunches by overweight, angrily told on Víctor. She said he starved himself at home to get the good things at school.

“What about that, Víctor?” I asked sternly.

His high-pitched voice could be heard all over the yard as he arose to say he did not eat the beans at home because Ysidra did not cook them “good.” She didn't put salt! And when he protested, she put too much salt. For spite! The children all burst into laughter, except Ysidra. I held my composure, but the idea came to me that a page of “complaints” might go over well in Little Cowpuncher.

Mary, sweet Mary, couldn't think of anything in her life to complain about. When I suggested that few people would want to ride over her bus route twice a day sitting on a tin lunch pail, she was finally inspired.

At the end of our “gripe” pages, after all the pupils from the second grade through the eighth had expressed themselves on tattling, writing notes, teasing, unfair playing, daily rations, and anything else they wanted changed, Mary and Edward presented the plight of the bus riders.

‘‘

Every morning I get up at 5 A.M. and ride from 6 till nearly nine. And in the afternoon from 3:30 till 6:00 P.M. on a 8 lbs. lard pail which sits between the front seats of my father's bus. Can you imagine how it feels?

Then I read in the car all the time as I ride. Nobody makes me do that but it is the only chance I have to read outside of school and I can't write lessons in the car because it wiggles and bumps. And as hard as it is for me I always read whole books, not skipping through them, and I never tell the teacher I have read a library book until I have read it through. Then there is always somebody who


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cheats and gets credit for books not read all the way through. I have complaints about these cheaters that wouldn't be fair to say in public. —M. H., Eighth Grade

My reasons for complaints about coming to school so far and early are something that nobody knows except the ones who are traveling. People think we have a good time riding. But it is a mistake. You feel sleepy, miserable, and cross. You get up at 5 o'clock every morning with hardly any appetite and still you have to eat because about after 10 o'clock you feel hungry. If anyone wants to get tired of school let him try it. But even though we have a miserable life still I don't miss school. I always try to have a perfect attendance.…

I wish one of these days the Government which is doing so much for some people would make all these roads better and the lives of some of us easier. It may be wrong to complain but never the less I give my opinion and have my freedom of speech. I know the Pima County School System is paying for a bus to take us who live far away to school to help us become educated citizens. But we do also suffer for our education. —E. H.

’’

Sometimes the little ones can't stay awake on the bus or during the long school day. When they put their heads down on their desks and sleep I won't let them be disturbed. Many afternoons when the first two grades are dismissed at two-thirty, I bed down seven-year-old Jack Emery in the back of my car. Once the bus left without him. He awoke in dismay to find me at the wheel dashing to catch them. But they had already missed him and were returning. His nine-year-old brother Bill was absent one day. It began to rain while they were standing out in the dawn waiting to be picked up. He ran back to the mining camp where his father had left the three of them about a mile above Pascual's little ranch. Jack and Inez Jane stood and took the rain until the bus came rather than miss school.

When these young people come every day, in all kinds of weather, sick or well, it shows real interest. In


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this case I think it may be a feeling that they might miss something. With so many plans and projects our schedule is often variable. It depends on the weather and the general state of our health just what day we'll plunge into pottery-making, landscape painting, playwriting, dance practice, or track-meet drills. We never know when the county superintendent will arrive with a moving picture (powered by the motor of her car with a rear wheel jacked up) or a set of achievement tests. We always have a book going, and nobody wants to miss a chapter. I read aloud (dramatic readings with theatrics) immediately after lunch, an arrangement that gets the pupils promptly into their seats. And often there are grand projects such as the Halloween Party, the Rodeo Parade, or the May Festival. Our attendance record is excellent.

Hardships notwithstanding, the older bus riders, especially, have outgrown their homes and need contacts that only school can give. I think, in particular, of Edward and Mary, two gifted young teenagers. It is not accurate to tag them “Mexican ranch children.” When in the primary grades, they attended school in Los Angeles and in Tucson. Their ethnic distinction is that their mother's father was an Irishman from the Old Sod. But they subsist chiefly on frijoles and tortillas, live in a floorless shack on their father's homestead, and are attending their fourth year in this isolated country school. The benefits they get from their present activities are appreciated. Mary said: “Edward and I are learning lots this year. My father asks us questions about the weather and the clouds and things like that when we are coming on the bus and he can see that we are learning very much.”


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At this, Socorro, who is shy about making mistakes when she wants to express herself in English, had a problem to present. “You know, Mrs. Bourne,” she said, “My father does not believe that the rain comes from the ocean and the wind blows the clouds over here to us. He says he sees the clouds grow on the tops of mountains here. On the Santa Ritas he sees them grow.”

We went into the matter as well as we could with the reference books at hand, using up our allotted time for history and physiology that day. In ranch country nothing is as important as rain.

Edward is our Little Cowpuncher artist. He is talented and ambitious. He is dark-skinned, black-haired, slight of stature. I wondered about his name. Neighbors call him “Eduardo,” his family call him “Lalo” (which the Aros boys sometimes reverse to “Lola” to tease him), but he wants to be called Edward.

I have seen Edward develop from a clever-fingered boy who could make delicate wire baskets and cut freehand silhouettes to a self-confident artist sure of his ideas and their execution. To Edward as a developing artist school has meant above all opportunity—such as Bill Ronstadt's being brought in to give art lessons.

Edward has been a joyous surprise, for at first I didn't take to him. He seemed unruly because he never could keep quiet. Bill told me about the teacher who hit him across the nose with the sharp edge of a ruler. It could have put his eye out. I couldn't believe a teacher would hit a child in the face for nothing—later I heard that he had turned around to talk to the boy behind him. He was fourteen when I met him and could no more be


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still than could a weathervane in a breeze. I accepted his compulsion to talk; it is seldom life's business to be still and quiet.

Plagued by his chatter the first day of school, I put him to figuring everybody's height and weight. It made a noise, but a legitimate noise. For several days I kept plying him with busy tasks. But I didn't suppress him. After the second week he began writing notes to me on the blackboard, usually, to my irritation, leaving out punctuation marks. In the morning when I turned to my special panel to put up the daily chart, I might find scrawled in a nice clean place: when are we going to have art. After lunch, may we draw today would stare at me from the back board. I ignored these suggestions. I was struggling with the hardest task I'd ever had. No pupil except Mary could read. The school books might as well have been printed in Greek. Now let this impertinent boy try to read and learn history dates and fractions—and high time!

But Edward didn't have long to wait to get his desire. For my five primary children, one morning I drew on the board with colored chalk a crude illustration of Little Boy Blue. I saw Edward quit his arithmetic and watch me as I struggled with the haystack and cornfield. At noon he slipped in and expertly worked over my picture.

“Edward, did you do that?”

“Yes, Ma'am.”

“All right. Thank you. We're going to have art in this school.”

This was a year before Bill Ronstadt married. But


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bachelors are generally hungry. When I invited Bill to dinner I asked him to come early and teach drawing and painting while I made the casserole and the pie (our establishment had no icebox or refrigerator). Bill had never had young children under his direction. When I sat in on his classes I felt as if I were auditing a university lecture. He was wonderful with chalk and pencil, fluent with Spanish—and a big success as a teacher. Edward, Mary, and Socorro did so well he thrilled to teach them.

And Edward was a problem no more. How versatile he is! Besides drawing and painting, he plays the piano by ear, sings tenor, writes stories, drives a car, rides a horse, is a good marksman, is student enough to do two grades in one year, and at home his father calls him his “right-handed man” (so what if he isn't still and quiet!). He gathers and cuts firewood, changes tires, and is the water-carrier up a steep slippery sixty-foot climb from the well in the canyon to the house on the hillside.

Even so, his father and the vaqueros tease him about his interest in art and his passion for nature study. He told me indignantly one morning as he handed me about a hundred long-stemmed pale violet covenas (picked while he kept the bus waiting) that Pascual called him “sissy” because he liked flowers. I told him about Wordsworth, Thoreau, and Burbank. He went right to the Book of Knowledge and looked them up.

Mary is younger than he, but ahead of him because he has had pneumonia twice. She is a short, plump girl with a pretty face and lovely hair which she hates without a permanent. Worried about her figure, she often starts her long, hard day without breakfast, and is careful


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to eat lightly at lunch. I tell her that the reason she has headaches often is because of hunger. But I cannot deny that beans and tortillas are not slenderizing foods. She maintains that her headaches are caused by reading while the bus jiggles over the rough roads.

When can she read? At school she is busy all day. At home they make her go to bed early because she must get up at five o'clock. But she will read. I believe she is the only pupil I ever had who plodded through every page of Little Women. Last year she won our prize for reading the most library books. I am proud of the reader she has grown to be, and I like her stories, too. When she told how she spent her Thanksgiving vacation, for our December Little Cowpuncher, she divided the material into five parts. Part I was about Wednesday, the afternoon she went to town, always a thrill for her; Part II was Thursday when she attended her cousin's early morning church wedding and ate two Thanksgiving dinners. Then she wrote graphically of a ranch girl's experiences.

‘‘ Part. III. Friday

That morning, in cleaning my cousin's house where we stayed, and packing to go back to the ranch, I went to sleep everything I did. So I took my baby niece and put her to sleep and slept with her. When I awoke my aunt came with the exciting news my cousin from Los Angeles had come.

After that visit we went to two houses to say goodby, and so it was dark when we came to the ranch. Then I had to make a fire and get supper and make tortillas. Imagine how I felt. I said to myself, I won't go to town any more because when I feel so tired from the long bumpy road, then I have to make a fire and make tortillas.

’’ ‘‘ Part. IV. Saturday

We had to get up early again. Alas, the only days we might have slept a little late. For now on our holidays we had to go make a new road. Our neighbor closed the road we had been using. He told us he was going to use the land.


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So we had to pick and shovel and rake and roll big rocks. On that land there are rocks as high as our bus tires. We cut cactus, paloverdes, mesquites, and yerba del burro. It was hard work. I had some Levi's and put on an old hat so to not get burned. The next day my body felt just as if I had been riding a bronco horse.

’’ ‘‘ Part. V. Sunday

Our last holiday passed also with the hard rough road work. I heartily wished it had been a schoolday even if I had to do arithmetic all day. It was the hardest work I have ever done in my life for we have been on the ranch not much over three years. But I did enjoy the two days in Tucson. —M. H., Eighth Grade

’’

During the fall months we had for a few weeks (while their father did some assessment work on mining claims) the little Sánchez children. Prudencia, the oldest, in the third grade, wrote this account of her Thanksgiving celebration: “I stayed at home. I ate bread and potatoes and candy.”

Contrast with that the feast at Palo Alto where Frances Salazar lives with her aunt and uncle who adore her, and indulge her: “I ate turkey in the night of Thanksgiving. Lots of people came to my house and I invited Marcela to stay 2 days.”

Frances is a happy little girl whose popularity and gaiety may stem partly from the fact that she is a natural honey blonde. The bus picks her up about seven-thirty in front of the big house where her uncle is stationed as cowboy. Ysidra, fourth grade, who was a guest at the party wrote it up in this manner: ‘‘

I went to Palo Alto with my mother and the girls. And the big boys. Socorro and Frank christened Frances doll in the afternoon. When we got there Charli, the uncle of Frances, killed the turkey and they took the feathers from it and cooked it. At 11:30 in the night we had supper and we drank cocoa. But they didn't have lots of cocoa. It was not enough for all the audience.
—Y. A. Fourth Grade

’’


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Nobody was left at Poso Nuevo that holiday but Pancho and the three youngest boys. Arturo wrote of their activities: ‘‘

Wednesday we had a Thanksgiving party at school. We were thankful because we had a perfect attendance for a whole month. We ate pickles and carrots and buns with weinies and pumpkin pie and candy. But Thursday on the day of Thanksgiving we did not have a good time because the girls and my mother and the big boys went to Palo Alto and left Pancho, Víctor, Pili, and me alone at the ranch. We were not afraid of anybody that would harm us. To eat we made a sugar candy and ate many prunes. A. A., Fifth Grade

’’

The four Badilla children entered Baboquívari School this year, so they still seem like new pupils. But they gladly entered into our work and play, and shared our enthusiasm for baseball, singing, parading, making pottery, and publishing Little Cowpuncher.

The aim is to have at least one story from each little cowpuncher every month. But when we were ready to go to press Herlinda had been left out. In last-minute panic I gave her a piece of scratch paper and said: “Write a story.”

“What shall I write about?”

“Oh, write about yourself.” She did.

‘‘ MY OWN STORY

I am a little cowpuncher girl. I live in the Ronstadt Ranch near the Baboquívari Mountains. It is the Las Delicias Ranch. I eat Mexican food. Beans and tortillas and bread and milk because I am a Mexican girl. This week at our school Mrs. Ewing from Illinois and Mr. and Mrs. Ronstadt came to visit our school and we sang them many songs. H. B., Sixth Grade

’’

Her sister Dolores, called Lolita or Loli, is a special child. In school she seems like something from dream heaven, so I call her my angel. This amuses the other


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little girls. We sing a lullaby the last line of which is “Angels will watch my darling.” At that line Teddy and Chelo smile and point to Loli. She is a demure child with pale skin, dainty features, and soft waving hair shoulder length worn looped back with a ribbon. I like to hear her read, for the sweet throaty quality in her voice. I can't imagine scolding her. Perhaps her frail loveliness has something to do with valvular trouble in her heart; we have to be careful that she does not overdo. She won a prize for getting a hundred perfect lessons before anyone else in school. She is eight years old and has caught up, in school work, with her brother Lupe who is nine.

Lupe is a funny boy. Funny, without being rude or smarty. Everybody likes him and the children laugh at his antics without teasing him. In lessons he is slow but sure. He will not quit an assignment just because it is closing time.

“Come on, Lupe! The bus is going!”

“Wait me. I no feenish my test.”

There he stays, half-sitting, half-standing, writing in his big, clear letters until he answers all the questions that have been given him, and mostly with correct answers.

Luis, the oldest Badilla, is a slight boy of fourteen—also a victim of chest trouble. But there is no occasion to call him angelic. I lose patience trying to get him to read the required number of library books. I scold him for his annoying habit of inciting giggling spasms among the Aros boys. Ramón has to move across the room from him to keep his composure. When the boys have their unsupervised baseball at noon, Luis, now forbidden by doctor's orders to be catcher (which he plays expertly),


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is umpire. Though thinly dressed, he never complains of the cold. He likes to ride the bus since he doesn't have to get up so early—he lives only seven miles from school—and insists on taking his share of opening gates and changing tires.

Bus riding, in spite of hardships, has its pleasant side in good weather. The children from lonely ranches enjoy the chance to gossip and play. Many times Mary or Herlinda reads aloud or tells stories to the younger ones; and Frances amuses them by translating into Spanish the stories they have heard at school. In warm weather Pascual leaves part of his load in charge of Mary and Edward in some pleasant spot along the road while he goes up a sideroad to Las Delicias, or to Peyron's for little Ester. Poor child. She is too frail and undernourished to bear up under school and bus riding. Every year she falls ill before attending school long enough to pass, so she is still in the first grade, although eight years old. While Pascual is gone, the waiting children pick flowers, eat covena bulbs, or practice for track meet or dances. Sometimes they have seen snakes or coyotes or skunks, but nothing bad has happened to them. And once in a while they get a thrill such as Edward described: ‘‘ A RARE THING THAT HAPPENED

We were waiting by Cerro Prieto for the bus when right before our eyes stood a herd of blacktalled deer. They were about thirty—does, fawns, and bucks. They stood very tame looking at us. All the kids were excited, yelling “Deer! Deer! Deer!” That frightened them and they ran away leaving a cloud of dust. —E. H.

[Author's note: Edward hesitated to publish this story. He was afraid some heartless hunters with no respect for lawful seasons might


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come and kill them. We waited until the deer had time to change ranges before printing it.]

’’

Pascual, our bus driver, has a sunny disposition despite his chronic parental grumblings and ceaseless chatter. A clerk in the county superintendent's office calls him Señor Muchas Palabras—Mr. Many Words. His services to the school are not limited to driving the bus and signing vouchers as a trustee. He fires up the teacher's stove about 11 a.m. and makes the cocoa. He mends broken windows and screen doors, and at times takes a hand at yard duty. But his most valued service to the school and community is that of barber. He cuts hair for any and all and is in great demand before fiestas. One by one, after the grownup cowboys are shorn, my boys, and some of the girls, get excused from the schoolroom and run out to the backless chair under the tamarisk tree in the rear where Pascual talks and jokes and snips off locks all day long.

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