Sunday, December 12, 2010

BUS STORY # 214 (The Conversation Starter)


Bus Pass, originally uploaded by busboy4.


The conversation began when a rider pointed to a bus pass lying on the seat between us.

“Careful you don’t lose your pass,” he told us before exiting the rear door.

“Thanks," I said, even though it wasn’t mine.

The woman on the other side of the ticket laughed and said, “I’ll bet that’s from yesterday.”

She picked it up and turned it over. Bingo.

“Well, he was being thoughtful,” I offered, and she agreed.

The conversation might have lapsed at that point. But after a brief pause, she pointed out most of the school kids weren’t on the bus this morning. She thought it was called something like “fall break,” but she wasn’t getting any fall break. She was on her way to her pre-school class of four and five year olds.

I said something about the challenges of having a roomful of pre-schoolers.

She laughed and said they kept her on her toes, but they were good kids.

How many in the class?

Thirteen.

So how long had she been teaching?

The kids? Three years.

Where else had she taught?

That, she said, was a long story.

By this time, I’d stuck my magazine into my backpack and turned in my seat toward her. She was Native American, maybe early 50s. Long dark hair pulled back tightly into a bun. Brown leather car coat, dark blue unwrinkled jeans, yellow work boots.

She’d worked 13 years in Window Rock at a shelter for battered women. One of the things she did was facilitate healing ceremonies for the women in the shelter. I got the sense this was a critical first step in getting the women to start moving in a constructive direction.

Window Rock told me she must surely be Navajo, but she did not have the characteristic Navajo cadence to her speech. In fact, she sounded like any of my well-educated, non-Native American, female coworkers. However, she did have the Navajo mannerism of not looking directly at me. She mostly kept her eyes on the seat across the aisle from me. I adopted the same mannerism, fastening on a pair of black shoes with Velcro straps up on the rear platform, and for the most part was able to maintain it for the remainder of the ride.

I told her 13 years in a women’s shelter sounded like emotionally draining work, and asked how she managed to keep from becoming burnt out.

She told me funding got cut and she lost her job. She said she came to Albuquerque to live with her daughter while she tried to figure out what to do next. She did get a job at a women’s shelter here, but quickly decided she was ready to leave this work behind.

I found myself wondering if being a Navajo among so many non-Navajo women meant she found herself unable to connect as effectively with her clients, or if there was a loss of passion for those who were not her own people, or if she found herself devalued or dismissed because she was Native American. Or maybe going back to the work simply made her realize how much she really didn’t want to do this anymore.

The school job just sort of fell into her lap, and she regarded it as a gift. She did find it humorous that she thought she’d left raising kids behind when her own children left home.

There was another pause, and then she added, “I also used to fight forest fires.”

“Were you a Hot Shot?” I asked, surprised and impressed.

“No, just a regular fire fighter.”

She proceeded to tell me how she’d done this work for five summers, and how she’d gone all over the country. Her last fire was in the mountains of North Carolina, and before that, the one in Raton -- I might remember that one . . .

I didn’t, but I did notice she’d become more animated remembering and telling me about those forest fire days. Something in her telling reminded me of a Joni Mitchell line: “I was a free man in Paris/I felt unfettered and alive.

And then we were at her stop.

“Have a good day,” she told me as she headed for the door.

And just like that, she was gone.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Brenda said...

I think I would like to read her biography. Thank you for this glimpse into her life.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

That makes two of us, Brenda. I'm glad she felt like talking that morning.

4:10 PM  
Anonymous Nathaniel Flick said...

Hey, Auckland Bus Stories here (Nathaniel). You are such a great writer. Glad you're still doing it! My route changed so I haven't been on the bus for nearly a year now. Disappointing.

Talk soon.

Nathaniel

5:29 AM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Nathaniel - great hearing from you! I've missed your blogging. You always had good stories, and you posted frequently. So sorry the bus is no longer working for you.

I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Thanks for keeping in touch, and for the kind words.

9:04 PM  

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