Back in the 80s in Ivy, back before Murray Elementary got its shiny rebirth as Virginia L. Murray, we used to sweat out the school year well into June’s heat and humidity. The teachers would wheel in a massive television on a cart, pull down the blinds, and in the absence of air conditioning we’d fold paper fans out of construction paper while we shifted our weight to unstick our thighs from the plastic seats.
For my siblings and me, however, a sweet, cool relief awaited us as soon as that final bell rang. That’s when we were released to the custody of our bus driver, Harold Barbour, who stood waiting for us beside bus number 123.
No, the bus didn’t have air conditioning, either. Those June days meant Harold would drive down Morgantown Road to the Ivy Store where he would park the bus and go in while we poked our heads out the slide-down windows, panting. Harold would return from the store with his trademark ear-to-ear grin and an armload of popsicles.
These were no-frills popsicles: a plain white wrapper, one solid flavor, no jokes on the stick or cartoon characters to do their marketing. Sometimes they were stuck to the inside wrapper and you’d have to pull the stick out of the half-melted slush and spoon out your treat. Root beer was my favorite, blue—you know, the flavor “blue”—a close second. Harold paid for the popsicles out of his own public-school bus driver salary. He got only “thank yous” in return. At least, I hope he did. The taste of those popsicles, the mere receipt of such a perfect refreshment on a sweltering day is never far from my memory, even 30 years later.
That was far from the end of Harold’s generosity. At Christmas time there were footlong candy canes for each rider on his bus. On the last day of school you would get a soda—a whole can just for you!—and you would even get to place your order the previous day. I always chose Dr. Pepper; my brother favored Mt. Dew. Harold treated all of us like his own kids. We were safe with him and happy during the thirty to forty minutes he took care of us down the winding roads of Ivy’s neighborhoods.
When I was in fifth grade, my last year with Harold at the helm, I had an emergency appendectomy that landed me in the hospital, and off the bus. Who was my only visitor outside of my family? Of course it was Harold. He sat with us, made me laugh, and told me to hurry up and get better so I could get back on the bus.
My life has taken me far from the twisting roads of Ivy to the bustling streets of Chicago. Even here, the news reached me of the devastating and fatal floods that swept through my hometown a few weeks ago. And then I learned that Harold’s house was among those damaged by the storm.
Luckily, my memories aren’t the only ones of Harold’s kindness. His family’s gofundme is bringing more than 40 years of lucky children out to thank their bus driver and friend again for the unending acts of kindness that he extended to us when we were small. We want to see him rebuild. We don’t want that smile erased.
Because we didn’t know back then the harsh realities we would someday face. We didn’t know about the unfairness and the struggles of hospital stays and natural disasters. We just knew someone, a very special someone, took us to and from our school every day, and sometimes he gave us a popsicle. And we never, ever forgot about him.
You can read more about the flood and the damage to Harold's home by clicking here: http://www.nbc29.com/story/38391565/flood-waters-destroy-family-home-in-ivy-area
If you feel inspired to donate money, even the price of a popsicle, click here: https://www.gofundme.com/help-the-barbours-rebuild