Just the Bus Driver

“Hey, step inside here and warm yourself,” the strong but elderly voice directed.

I climbed into the cramped school bus, glad to be temporarily shielded from the frigid wind, and the woman quickly shut the door.

I had been here before. Holding the infant twins with my front strap-on carriers had become second nature to me. The strong and less controllable boy’s spot was the two strap centered holder, while the wiry baby girl sat in what I called “the sidecar”—a small sitting shelf attached to a nylon belt looped around my waist.

“It’s going to be cold like this all week,” she remarked.

We continued making small talk about the area, the weather, and our families.

The strong odor of must encouraged me to reminiscence about my own long uncomfortable rides in the “yellow banana” so many years ago. On the seat behind the bus driver, hung a red athletic jacket—several shiny gold and silver pins placed near the collar.

One of the pins evidently had something to do with baseball, but I could not read the wording.

“Well, it will be warm enough for baseball soon,” she observed.

Oddly, our previous conversations had included baseball as well. Building on the baseball topic and squinting to see anything else about her collar, I fired several questions at her trying to find her connection to baseball. Had she always been a fan? Did she attend lots of games? Did she have grandchildren that played or maybe a son who coached? The woman cheerfully responded “no” to all of prompts.

“There are the school children. I better run—thanks again for allowing me to stand on your bus Salty.”

The woman leaned over, tickled the toes of the two twins, and wished us a good rest of the day.

On another afternoon in the same parking lot outside the school, I overheard one of the parents giggling and pointing to one of the school buses. There, was my driver friend, head slumped back and mouth open, nodding off for 40 winks—taking a brief respite before being surrounded by energetic school children ready to go home.

“Oh, to be JUST the bus driver,” the mom remarked dismissingly while still pointing at the slumbering woman.

Hmm, I thought. I never was one to be concerned with status. Perhaps, that is what made me feel positive about my decision to initially become law enforcement—officers work around and become friends with so many different folks that employment, wealth, and other social yardsticks, for the most part, are less relevant in the policing world as compared to other professions.

The thoughtless comment did remind me, that for some reason, I was interested in why this elderly woman driver was so interested in baseball, but had no favorite team, no relatives playing the sport, and seeming no connection to America’s pastime. It just did not make sense to me.

One common trait with my police friends is curiosity, and this usually results in lots of questions. Despite leaving the profession, that is one of the qualities that has stayed with me (or still haunts me)—I will bombard folks with questions. Actually, always needing to sit facing the door and constantly looking at street signs so I know where I am are annoying habits to others as well.

Curious and inspired to look into what connection my bus driver friend had to baseball, I started playing around on the computer and thinking. A few mornings later, I turned to Google and followed a hunch. I typed the following keywords: salty and baseball. On page two of the search records, I found this gem:

Sarah Jane "Salty" Ferguson, who played under her maiden name of Sands, is a young lady who unfortunately didn't reach the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) until 1953, its next-to-final season,

She played in both of the final two years, for the Rockford Peaches, the team depicted in "A League Of Their Own," although Salty played after the War. Standing 5'4" weighing but 120 she seemed small for a catcher, But she was a scrapper and in her second year made the reserve All Star team. Unfortunately the AAGPBL folded in 1954 and her pro career ended…
Scanning through the article, I almost jumped out of my office chair. She played catcher for the Rockford Peaches?

The same Peaches team made famous by actors Geena Davis, Madonna, and Tom Hanks in the movie A League of Their Own?

This bus driver was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988—the one in Cooperstown, NY?

After some more digging, I found some historical pictures of the ball player named Salty.

Yes, same woman.

A few days later, I saw my friend on her bus and confronted her with my evidence. I even pointed to the shiny pin on her coat that I now could clearly read that said “Cooperstown.”

She just smiled modestly, and replied, “Yes, that was a great time. Many people never get to do what they love and fulfill a dream. I have been very blessed.”

We laughed for a few minutes, and then she boarded her bus and went back to work--still scrappy in her 70s no matter what the assignment.

Daily, we meet people who we form opinions about. As much as I try to avoid it, negative and judgmental thoughts can creep into my evaluation of others. To counter this bad practice, I am glad to be reminded from time to time that each person has a story to tell.

This includes unique experiences that have shaped them as a person—tales that are often interesting and dramatic, and on occasion: wonderfully meaningful and historic.

My experience with Salty made me think: how many other people (and the great stories that are a part of them) have I overlooked and not engaged in conversation because of my perception of them? It was a lesson that I’ll never forget.

“…Just the bus driver” as the one parent flippantly remarked; well, that proved to be the understatement of the year.


Erin said...

Oh. My. Gosh. That is so cool!! And what a great post.

Randy said...

Stories about people, like this one, are why I got my degree in history. I'm glad I bookmarked your blog. Well written.

J. J. in Phila said...

I was a store in Philadelphia when I saw an elderly man walking with his wife. He had on a tee shirt that said, "2nd Division 'Hell on wheels."

I couldn't resist and asked, "You were outside of Dinant on Christmas, '44?"

I know he didn't expect someone so young to ask, but he smiled broadly and said yes.

I'll let someone else expain the story.

Expat From Hell said...

Absolutely delightful, SD! Great inspiration, and great post. Thanks for doing this. I will keep my eyes out for my next bus driver!


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

What a fabulous story! It's so easy to dismiss people, isn't it?

Personally, I always thought of bus drivers as beings on another spiritual plane. How anyone can drive with that much commotion is beyond me.

I was surprised Salty even let you stand in the bus. Parents aren't supposed to enter the buses here....something about liability.

BTW, I ask lots of questions, too, but I don't have an excuse for it like you do :)

sandals7 said...

What a wonderful post. It is easy to forget as we go about the routine of daily life that everyone has a story to tell. I liked the movie _A League of Their Own_, but I never did the research to find out how much of it was grounded in actual history. Thanks for sharing this.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the feedback. Good point KMG--not sure if they have a similar rule here. If so, I should practice my "no comment" speech.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Hee hee. I won't tell, but I think you already did!

mappchik said...

What a wonderful story; well told, too.

As for whether or not letting a dad holding two infants step in and stay warm during the cold school pickup wait is "allowed"... can't really expect a woman with a past that included the name "Salty" to follow all the rules, can you?

Again, great post. Kind of neat to find out that sometimes the normal backstory you might imagine for someone you pass might is nowhere near as fantastic as the real thing.

Michelle said...

Thank you! I've often wondered this myself, how we overlook others because they don't fit some preconceived notion we have of what "should" be. To see everyone as a person first, a story to tell...

mrs. fuzz said...

LOVED this post! What a great reminder. Thank you for the inspiration.

The Bus Driver said...

What a wonderful story!

Bus drivers come from all walks of life for sure!

Natalie said...

Mrs. Fuzz linked this to a post she wrote, and I'm so glad I clicked on it! My hubby's an LEO and it's been great discovering others through the blogging world

P.S. As a secondary history and English teacher, you do an excellent job writing! Just FYI.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks Natalie--I'll accept and treasure writing compliments from an English teacher anytime that I can get them.

Momma Fargo said...

Very cool post. Here because of your interview with Dee. Amazing. Very thought provoking and Just the Bus Driver rocks! I can see why it is your favorite post.

Abigail said...

I LOVE this post! I can see why it is your favorite. What an awesome privilege you had to meet Salty!

BTW...my hubby prefers to sit with his back against the wall where he can see everyone. While not a former law officer...he did spend a lot of growing up time as a white boy minority in a city that was named the "murder capital of the US" (per capita) for over 20 years running.

Slamdunk said...

Abigail and Momma Fargo: Thanks for the kind words. It was a fun experience.