Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children

James Browning

stories from the book
by James V. Browning

How to Ride a School Bus

Stephen V. Foster

I entered the Home because my mother was unable to care for me due to illness. I don’t recall much of my childhood before this time, only fragments of distant memories—touring English countryside in a motorcycle sidecar with my uncle; being ill in a hospital in Germany; riding on an Army tank; and living in our house in Oklahoma. I do remember vividly my years at the Home, and especially the time in Rinard Cottage.

“Mama Betty” Bishop was the housemother of Rinard Cottage which housed 16 rowdy elementary school-aged boys and girls. She was a petite woman with dark hair and tidy appearance. I realized very early that daily life under Mama Betty was very orderly. We always ate on time, we kept the building clean, and we learned the rules. She accomplished this tremendous feat, as she had for several decades, with compassion, love and pleasure. She never raised her voice, always had a kind word, and managed to spend individual time with each of us.

We were responsible for making our own beds and keeping our desks, closets, and chest-of-drawers clean. Mama Betty assigned each of us chores like helping with meals, sweeping floors, cleaning the bathrooms and performing other household duties. These chores were rotated every school semester. Repeated failure to finish our chores usually meant that a privilege, such as playing outside after school, would be taken away until the chore was completed.

Sometimes learning the rules was more difficult for some than it was for others. I think I was one of those! Returning home from school one day, I learned a valuable lesson about how to properly ride the school bus. Mama Betty was waiting at the front door and told us to hang up our coats, put away our schoolbooks, and change into our play clothes, as she always did. However, when I reached the front door, she told me to meet her in the hallway where she had a surprise for me. Oh Boy! A surprise that was so important I didn’t have to put my things away! When I walked into the hall I was puzzled to see our small wooden desk chairs lined up two-to-a-row down the hallway.

Mama Betty explained that she had watched me get on the school bus that morning. I had thrown my schoolbooks on the seat, plopped down, and placed my feet on top of the seat in front of me. I suspect I had been told many times that this was wrong. She said that I was to get on our imaginary school bus, place my books neatly on the seat next to me, and sit down gently with my feet firmly planted on the floor. We repeated this exercise many times, while the others went outside to play, until she was certain that I had learned the proper way to ride a school bus. I can’t recall ever being told again how to ride a school bus!

As an adult, I often reflect on my time with Mama Betty. I realize now the value of the lessons we learned, the purpose of responsibilities, and the privileges we received as rewards. Mama Betty taught me more than how to ride a school bus that day. She also taught me that responsible behavior is expected from all of us if we are to be rewarded with happiness. It is this sense of personal, family, and community responsibility that I teach my children. I watch them grow by learning the same lessons that I was taught. Seeing this transformation is rewarding, pleasurable, and the most satisfying endeavor I will ever undertake. I believe Mama Betty felt the same way.

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