Growing up in rural Nebraska in the 1960’s and 1970’s was a mix of freedom, exploring, and curiosity. I treasure my memories there. Mostly, I felt loved, cherished, and safe. Shout out to Harvey and Nelma for nurturing me and my childhood.
I attended a consolidated school as a child, and I rode a yellow school bus. (I will leave the bullying stories on the bus to another blog post.) There was a stop on the way to school on a country gravel road beside a tiny house with broken windows, very little paint, and a risky porch swing. The bus driver (bless them-hug a bus driver today), would pull out a box of tissues and hand them to the skinny, hollow-eyed, shivering children that got on the bus at that stop. You see, each day, year after year, these children would stand in the cold for the bus, without coats or mittens, and green goo coming out of their noses and their eyes. I will never forget that sight and the gnawing in my gut that I had at that bus stop. What was happening here and why?
As luck would have it and as a talker, a voracious reader, and a grownup fifth grader, I was chosen to read to underclassman. My first “student” was one of the green goo children. Rather than being disgusted or shocked, I became even more curious about the life of this child, almost my age but looking, smelling, and seeming so different than myself. So, the talker in me began asking questions.
My parents were not comfortable with some of the questions I asked. This was not a rare occasion. My dad was not a talker and when I discovered that he knew about this family and had delivered propane to this property, I became relentless about acquiring information.
They had a goat living in their dilapidated rental house, most likely as a milk source. Both parents were disabled, and they often survived in that shack with no heat. The children were constantly sick (hence the green goo), without proper clothing for the weather, and they had severe learning disabilities.
What does it take to be curious about the lives of others? Why do we avoid asking questions about people and situations we don’t understand? Do we fear the answers? Do we fear our inability to make changes? Does it remind us of our own frailty? I think all the above and much, much more.
When I asked my parents questions about the children on the school bus, I wasn’t afraid of the answers, and I wasn’t afraid of my inability to fix the situation. Something inside me burst open and revealed a true wonder about people, especially children, who were outwardly different than myself. It is this curiosity that has pushed me to find a way to learn all I can about babies and toddlers that are unique and special, and on the way nurture those who care for them.
I never knew how this family’s story ended. But, at this point in my life, it suddenly occurred to me that this story has become a big part of me. It has become my thoughts and pictures when I close my eyes, and my motivation. It is another cog in the wheel of who I am and what I say and what I do. I hope I can honor these sweet, innocent children with the green goo.