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"The Boy I Could Never Forget"

By Pauline Burgard, Centerview, Missouri


After 20 years as a full-time wife and mother, I decided now that my kids were grown, I needed a part-time job to keep me busy. I decided to drive a school bus. . . .

Charlie began riding my bus in September of my fourth year driving. Eight years old, with blond hair and crystalline gray eyes, he got on with a group of children. They all had stories to tell me about their summers. Charlie, though, ignored me. He didn't even answer when I asked his name.

From that day on, Charlie was a trial. If a fight broke out I didn't have to turn my head to know who had started it. If someone was throwing spitballs I could guess the culprit's name. If a girl was crying, chances were Charlie had pulled her hair. No matter how I spoke to him, gently or firmly, he wouldn't say a word. He'd just stare at me with those big gray eyes of his.

I asked around some, and found out Charlie's father was dead and he didn't live with his mother. He deserves my patience, I thought. So I practiced every bit of patience I could muster. To my cheery "Good morning," he was silent. When I wished him a happy Halloween, he sneered. Many, many times I asked God how I could reach Charlie. "I'm at my wit's end," I'd say. Still I was sure that this child needed to feel some warmth from me. So, when he'd pass by, I'd ruffle his hair or pat him on the arm.

Toward the end of that year, the kids on my bus gave me a small trophy inscribed "To the Best Bus Driver Ever." I propped it up on the dashboard. On top I hung a small tin heart that a little girl had given me. In red paint she had written, "I love Polly and Polly loves me."

On the next-to-last day of school I was delayed a few minutes talking to the principal. When I got on the bus I realized that the tin heart was gone. "Does anyone know what happened to the little heart that was up here?" I asked. For once with 39 children, there was silence.

One boy piped up, "Charlie was the first one on the bus. I bet he took it."

Other children joined the chorus, "Yeah! Charlie did it! Search him!"

I asked Charlie, "Have you seen the heart?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," he protested. Standing up, he took a few pennies and a small ball out of his pockets. "See, I don't have it."

"I bet he does!" insisted the girl who had given me t he heart. "Check his pockets."

Charlie glowered when I asked him to come forward. His gaze burned into mine. I stuck my hand into one pocket. Nothing. I reached into the other pocket. Then I felt it - the familiar outline of the small tin heart. Charlie stared at me for a long time. There were no tears in those big gray eyes, no plea for mercy. He seemed to be waiting for what he'd come to expect from the world. I was about to pull the tin heart out of Charlie's pocket when I stopped myself. Let him keep it, a voice seemed to whisper.

"It must have fallen off before I got here," I said to the kids. "I'll probably find it back at the bus depot." Without a word, Charlie returned to his seat. When he got off at his stop, he didn't so much as glance at me.

That summer Charlie moved away . . . .

Eventually I retired. And there my story as a school bus driver ends, except for one more incident.

A dozen years after retirement I was in a department store In Kansas City, when someone said tentatively, "Polly?"

I turned to see a balding man who was approaching middle age. "Yes?"

His face didn't look familiar until I noticed his big gray eyes. There was no doubt. It was Charlie.

He told me he was living in Montana and doing well. Then, to my surprise, he hugged me. After he let go, he pulled something from his pocket and held it up for me to see. An old key chain . . . bent out of shape, the lettering faded. You can probably guess what it was - the little tin heart that said, "I love Polly and Polly loves me."

"You were the only one who kept trying," he explained. We hugged again, and went our separate ways. . .

.

"The Boy I Could Never Forget"
By Pauline Burgard, Centerview, Missouri
Source: Guideposts, Copyright (c) April 2000, www.guideposts.org
 
 
 

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