Rows of vineyards passed us by like still frames swiftly moving in succession, pages of caricature figures rapidly turning. He sat in that yellow school bus. Unscathed by reality, his gaze burrowed holes in the glass, peering into nowhere as gorgeous terrain flashed before his glossy eyes. He kept singing; slowly, methodically. Persistently banging his head against a window, he wore a helmet that protected him from injuries. His speech was impaired, but his voice harmonious.
The hot dirt permeated in the noon day sun. Our bodies bobbled, bouncing up and down an old highway, the reverberation of that rickety bus heard. The veterans’ home was situated on a velvety green hillside among billowing oak trees that resembled ice cream cones from a distance. It was located in Yountville, CA on the edge of the luxurious Napa Valley. A huge building off by itself, my school, it modeled as a gateway that welcomed caravans of tourists from all over the globe to the world-renown wine country.
That day, I paid no attention to such astounding beauty. I still picture him sitting there, undisturbed, in that yellow bus. The constant rocking in his seat was a distraction to many, but to me his movements were rhythmic. The repetitious phrase that he sang compulsively was a hook. It baited, lured me in, wetting an appetite for more as my curiosity heightened. I was awestruck as he religiously obsessed over and over his tune. Today… it is a melody that I often think about. I never caught mention of his name, nor do I recall what he looked like. But I hear his voice decades later: “Cal-la-phone-ya, here we come”!
It wasn’t always the yellow school bus. I started kindergarten in a public school. It tasted of finger paint, Elmer’s glue, and empty milk cartons. The alphabet, in both small and capital letters, was spaced apart meticulously, and used as a border around the classroom. Graham cracker crumbs; pencil sharpener shavings; construction paper of various shapes, sizes; eraser markings; littered the desktops. All was lost in the shuffle of the American dream. A cookie cutter existence, we all expected a piece of the pie.
Yet, my teacher noticed that I had slight tremors in my hands. This made writing legibly a difficult endeavor, and the ability to cut with scissors next to impossible. I grew frustrated because I was unable to tie my own shoes, and buttoning things were a laborious chore for me. My mom always had suspicions that I wasn’t progressing along with the others who were similar in age. The doctors, however, dismissed her concerns immediately, blaming my developmental delays on baby chubbiness. Their prescription was patience as they vowed that I would soon quicken up the stride. The day never materialized.
I found myself on a yellow school bus instead. I was now transported every day, miles away, to a special needs’ school. I was diagnosed with a mild form of fine motor cerebral palsy. For the next year, the curriculum consisted of occupational therapeutic methods that would equip me to handle the “world” out there. I learned eye-hand coordination skills that dealt with minuscule objects such as picking them up, pinching them, and making sculptures out of clay. I also learned how to type by color. My therapist multi-colored a keyboard and matched the corresponding colors of tape to the appropriate fingers.
I could care less. These slight limitations were not threatening – no, that would come much later. I believe that was why I was grateful for my experience on that yellow school bus. Because what I could not comprehend then, I came to understand years down the road. This one year represented a small segment in a series of segues that bridged events into an ensuing story. And one day, due to such hindsight, it would enable me to embrace faith all the more. Anchored in a trust, it would be my hope to look at yesterday through tomorrow’s lenses.
There remained evidence that God’s design was not to clone, but to create an individual that lives out of a purpose. As far as the composition that young man sang is concerned, it simply taught me that. “Cal-la-phone-ya, here we come”! It would become a hymnal for future aspirations.