T’is The Night Before (Possibly The Last) Christmas

Two years ago, while Barack Obama was still President of the United States, I wrote a short piece in what could loosely be called ‘poetic’ style, as part of my Christmas message to the people of the Earth (hold on, my coronet’s slipping – ah, that’s better). I believe Her Majesty was ill-disposed that year.

The ‘message’ still holds good this Christmas, with a few slight modifications, so with apologies (yet again) to Clement Clarke Moore I present once more my ‘slightly adapted’ version of Moore’s famous ditty.

Assuming we all survive until 2019, may I wish all Sparrow Chat readers a truly wondrous Christmas, and a prosperous, if environmentally-friendly, New Year.

“T’IS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS”

T’is the night before Christmas, all over the earth
Terrorists are plotting for all they are worth.
The Donald sits musing, which country to strike?
China? Korea? Maybe both could be right?

His hand on the button, surely now is the time,
He thinks, “My life’s truly awful, it’s not worth a dime.
Who thought being Pressy could cause me such strain,
And Melania’s in bed with the butler – again!”

The Arctic is melting, the earth’s growing warm,
Droughts, floods, tornadoes, becoming the norm.
“Don’t blame us,” says the Donald. “It’s not me!” he cried
As New York washed away on a rather high tide.

Donald knows Mueller’s watching, and scheming to get him,
A Pressy in prison would not be a good thing.
He’ll blow up the world, end it all with a bang,
They’ll remember him then, or they all could go hang.

John Bolton had shown him the right way to do it,
But he’s off to bed with the wife of Scott Pruitt.
Donald grabs hold the briefcase with codes and iPad
He’ll nuke them all up, there’ll be no more jihad.

But high in the Heavens Mohammed and Jesus,
Mithras, Athena, and Zeus with his aegis,
Look down on a world they had brought into being
And cannot believe what the hell they are seeing.

They’ll not let a mortal destroy their creation,
They’ll do it themselves and to Hell with salvation,
Donald thinks he’s a god, but he’s sadly mistaken,
A god with such hair! And a mouth so mis-shapen?

They speak not a word, but go straight to their toil,
Call forth the angels, their Godblood a-boil,
Blasting the earth with hot fire from their noses,
They consume it all up – despite firemen’s hoses.

Then summoning chariots of fire with a whistle,
They fly off to heaven like the down of a thistle.
Only one of them speaks, the one they call Mithras
Mutters, “Bloody little shits! They just didn’t deserve Christmas.”

Christina Holsapple Doesn’t Ride The Bus Anymore

This last ‘school bus’ essay, and the one previous, concerns a place called Hope Estates. There are a plethora of ‘Hope Estates’ in America. They rarely make the media headlines, Hollywood has certainly never heard of them. They’re places of squalor and degradation, ramshackle trailer homes where exist those for whom the American Dream never, ever, could come true. Christina Holsapple was one little girl from Hope Estates who rode School Bus 13 each day. The driver took a special interest in her, as he realised she was a deeply troubled child. Then, suddenly, Christina Holsapple stopped riding the bus.

CHRISTINA HOLSAPPLE DOESN’T RIDE SCHOOL BUS 13 ANYMORE.

Christina Holsapple doesn’t ride the school bus anymore. Neither do William and Rashon Jordan. A few weeks ago William told the driver they were moving out of Hope Estates Trailer Park. They were going to live with their cousin and his family on the other side of town. The driver was pleased for them. Living anywhere was better than the trailer park.

The last day they rode the bus, the driver brought candy for all the kids, and allowed them to eat it on the journey home from school. It was a rare treat. It broke the rules to eat on the bus – but what did that matter? It was a party to say goodbye to William and Rashon; to wish them well in their new school, in their new life.

The driver noticed Christina had been quiet and withdrawn for some days. He asked her once, “Is anything the matter?” She shook her head before descending the bus steps and walking off up the path to the classrooms, yet he sensed a sadness; grief too deep for a little girl only nine years old.

The driver liked Christina. She could be a difficult child. Though sad and withdrawn much of the time, she could also be full of mischief; cheeky, yet often bright and cheerful, even when he’d written the referrals for misconduct on the bus that fetched her to the School Principal’s office on more than one occasion.

On the morning following William and Rashon’s departure, he noticed Christina was not at the bus stop, but thought nothing of it. Kids often missed a day or two, and he knew that sometimes one of the other parents took them into school by car. He hung around for five minutes. With Rashon and William no longer riding, Christina was the only child from Hope Estates to ride School Bus 13, and kids often overslept on schooldays. He’d learned to keep an eye on the bus’s side mirror when pulling away from a stop. It wasn’t unusual to see a half-dressed kid running along the sidewalk behind the bus, arms flailing, trying to grab his attention.

But Christina failed to appear, and there were lots of other children to collect on the way into school, so the driver left Hope Estates and went on his way. A week went by and still there was no sign of the girl. He asked another student about her, to be told she had been in school as usual. That eased his mind. Obviously, she was getting a lift.

Weeks went by but Christina never returned to the school bus. The driver thought of her from time to time, but was eventually told by his superintendent not to call at Hope Estates anymore as there were no longer any kids to be collected there. He wondered if Christina was okay, but failed to see her in the school playground, or leaving of an afternoon. Until one Wednesday, he’d been running late and had just picked up the kids when, as the bus was pulling slowly out from the schoolyard, he heard one of them say, “Look, there’s Christina!”

She was standing with a small group of children and a teacher, and was about to be picked up by a large black car. She looked up and saw the bus; the kids all waved to her. The driver stopped the bus, opened the doors, and waved. She turned and took a quick step forward towards the vehicle, like she might run and jump on board, but the teacher caught her by the shoulder. The driver saw that same look in Christina’s eyes he’d seen before – unfathomable sadness. The grief of an older woman emanating from a little girl’s face. He closed the bus doors and drove on up the road, then turned to Madelaine Bell, a sixth grader in one of the front seats, and asked, “Why doesn’t Christina ride the bus anymore?”

“Oh,” replied the girl, matter-of-factly, “Her parents do drugs. She was taken away. She’s in a foster home now.”

Hope Estates

I interrupted the saga of School Bus 13 with a couple of rants I needed to get off my chest. Now that’s done, we return to the kids of Bus 13 with just two more tales of life driving a school bus in a small Mid-West American town.

While mostly, the children provided lots of amusement – though often their antics didn’t seem funny at the time – there were moments of great sadness and pathos as well. The two stories that will end this brief interlude concern a little girl called Christina Holsapple. Christina was typical of so many children in America, those we don’t often hear about, the children of the poor and unemployed. Folk left to struggle with life’s cruelty in places like Hope Estates, and often failing miserably.

All the School Bus 13 stories are true. These last two, in particular, poignantly so.

HOPE(LESS) ESTATES

There’s a trailer park on the outskirts of town. It’s just across a main highway past the ADM factory, and surrounded on three sides by railroad tracks. It’s called “Hope Estates”, after Ezra Hope, the man who owns it. As trailer parks go, it’s not very large – probably two dozen, mostly dilapidated, homes each with an adjoining tiny patch of ground, overgrown with weeds and detritus.

There are two narrow roads through the trailer park, each only accessible by crossing the railroad tracks. All through the night locos shunt trucks back and forth to feed the appetite of the Archer Daniels Midland factory. Ostensibly the place only produces high fructose corn syrup, but huge chimneys belch fumes and ash twenty-four hours a day and a nauseating smell drifts across most of the town.

The driver once asked an old man who lived on Hope Estates whether the fumes concerned him. “Na,” he replied, spitting expertly into the dust at the edge of his trailer, “they say it don’t do no ‘arm to us. Mind – you’ve got to be careful if you own a car – I’ve known the ash to take off paint.”

William Jordan lives on the trailer park, with his mom and “uncle”, and his younger brother, Rashon. William is ten; his brother, six. Just across the way, in another rundown trailer, Christina Holsapple lives with her mom and dad. The three children all attend the same school. They travel on school bus 13. School begins with breakfast at eight forty-five. The kids have lunch provided and can buy hot popcorn from the machine to take home with them. For some it is their only evening meal. The Jordan’s and Holsapple’s don’t get on well. Feuds are common on Hope Estates. Families live too close together; the one commodity they share is struggle.

Christina is nine. She’s a quiet child, always shabbily dressed, clothes in need of a wash and mend. She never speaks, and rides the bus for two months before the driver sees her smile. He bought candy bars for all the kids every Friday afternoon and dished them out as they alighted from the bus. He noted Christina liked one particular type of candy. She would never look at him as he held out the bag of goodies, just root around until she found the one she liked, then turn and run down the steps without a word, or backward glance.

One Friday, as she was about to leave the bus, the driver held out her favored bar and said, “Here, Christina, I saved this one back just for you.” She looked at him with astonishment, then, with the ghost of a smile, whispered, “Thank you,” before turning and running down the steps as though afraid the driver might change his mind and take it away from her.

It’s easy to spot when the Holsapples and Jordans are feuding again. The driver has to take care and separate Christina from the two brothers, or they’ll fight on the bus. Rashon was diagnosed with ‘Attention Deficit Disorder’, but the driver guesses it’s simply lack of love. Once, when Rashon was really naughty and refused to sit in his seat without crawling all over the bus, he gave him pencil and paper and asked the little boy to draw what he saw from the bus window. Rashon never moved from his seat for the whole journey, totally absorbed in his drawing.

The kids from Hope Estates always look tired. Bags hang under their eyes. Trailers don’t insulate well, and the nightly loco shunting is loud and chaotic. It makes the parents edgy, quick to snap at their kids for the slightest misdemeanor. The other day his “uncle” beat Rashon with a strap for playing in the mud. Rashon likes the weekends, when he stays with his dad. His dad lives down by the lake. There are no railroad tracks down by the lake.

Today, the Jordan’s and Holsapple’s are not feuding. All three children look pale and sleep-deprived. They sit quietly in their seats and Rashon is asleep before they’ve left the Estate.The driver carefully edges his vehicle over the railroad tracks and out of the trailer park, past the name sign that reads: “Hope Estates”.

After the word, “Hope,” someone had once scrawled, “less”; but the ash from the ADM factory has almost eaten it away.