Busted Axle Road
CopyrightÂ© 1993, 2001, 2010
About the only thing that Tiffany Langenderfer-McMahon didn't like about living in the country was the long bus ride to school. She and Henry were about the first children to be picked up in the morning, and that meant a long bus ride to school. For whatever reason, the bus driver ran the route backwards in the afternoon, so they were about the last ones off, too. That meant for a lot of riding the bus, almost two hours a day.
Some days, if her father's schedule worked out, he'd take the kids and drop them off at school, which helped a little, even though he left so early that they had to sit around school for a while.
It had been good to not have to get up early to make the bus for the two weeks of Christmas vacation, and it had been hard to get back to having to wait out alongside the road in the first light of day, before the sun came up. It could get cold and lonely out there.
Two days after school started, while they were getting around in the morning, they realized that their mother wasn't at home. "Where's Mommy and Susan?" Henry asked.
"Mommy went to Camden this morning," her father offered. "She had some Christmas presents she wanted to exchange, and some other shopping to do. I've got to go to Warsaw, and I've got to leave pretty soon."
"What's in Warsaw, Daddy?" Tiffany asked.
"There's going to be a grand opening of the new paper plant," her father said. "I've got to go to it."
"What's it going to be like?"
Her father smiled at her. "There'll be a lot of men in business suits, standing around drinking coffee and making boring speeches about how wonderful it is," he said. "It's one of those things I don't want to go to, I have to go to. And, I have to leave pretty soon. Can I depend on you to get you and Henry on the bus?"
"Sure, Daddy," Tiffany said.
"Henry," Mike said, "No TV until you're all the way ready to go, except for putting your snowmobile suit on. All right?"
"All right, Daddy," he said.
Mike nodded. "I know I can depend on you kids to get to school on time," he said. "Tiffany, make sure all the lights are out, the doors are closed, and that George is tied out before you leave. I hate to do this to you, but I've got to get to Warsaw."
It was a big responsibility for Tiffany, and she knew it. There had only been a couple of times that her parents had left it up to her to get herself and Henry out to the bus stop, and Henry could be a slowpoke about getting around. She kept after him, though, and they actually got to watch cartoons for a few minutes before it was time to leave.
Because they were the only children living on Busted Axle Road, they had to wait out on the corner of the state road for the bus. It was a long walk in the cold morning air, but Tiffany and Henry were out by the corner in plenty of time.
Or so they thought. That morning, there was a substitute driver on the bus run, and in order to make the run on time, they'd left a few minutes early. Unknown to Tiffany and Henry, the lights of the bus disappeared around the corner just before they got to where they waited for the bus every morning.
It was cold and lonely waiting out there. Every few minutes, Tiffany or Henry would climb up on top of a snowdrift, to look and see if the bus was coming. The bus had never been this late before.
After a while, Tiffany happened to glance back up the road to their house, and saw the sun coming up. "It's getting late," she said. "I think we missed the bus."
"I think so, too," Henry said. "I'm getting c-c-cold."
They waited a couple more minutes, with Tiffany slowly coming to the realization that any more waiting was futile. "All right, let's go back home," she decided finally. "I'll call Mrs. Gravengood, and see if she can take us to school."
It seemed like an even longer walk back to the house for Tiffany. Her father had depended on her to get Henry on the bus in time, and they'd left the house in plenty of time, but still they'd missed the bus. What would her father say?
It was warm and comfortable inside the house, as chilled as they were. Tiffany went right to the phone and called up to Mrs. Gravengood, but there wasn't any answer. Disappointed, she hung up the phone and turned to Henry. "She's not home," she told him. "I don't know what we're going to do now."
"Watch more cartoons," Henry suggested, recognizing an opportunity when she saw one.
Now, Tiffany really felt down. "I can depend on you kids to get to school on time," her father had said, and she'd blown it. He'd be disappointed. Maybe they'd get punished, something like no TV, or not being able to run the dog team.
"Get your snowmobile suit back on, and turn the TV off," she told Henry. "We're going to school."
"How?" Henry asked.
"We're going to take the dogs."
It was a little scary to think about. She'd run the dog team several times, and had done everything that needed to be done to get them hooked up, but her father had always been there. To do it by herself, with only Henry helping was a big step, but she knew she didn't have much time, and didn't have time to stop and think. She and Henry went back outside, took the sled out of the barn and tied it to a pole with a timeline. She laid out the gangline, and told Henry to get squares of straw out for the dogs to lay on while they were in school, and to get a big, heavy blanket to wrap up in while he was in the sled, while she went to get Ringo.
All the dogs were cooperative, lifting their legs up to help her put the harnesses on them. In only a few minutes, she had George harnessed into the wheel position, the last dog to be hooked up. She and Henry closed the barn door, then she got Henry into the sled and wrapped the blanket around him.
The only thing that worried her was the first mad rush that the dogs always went through until they got settled down, and she hoped she could handle them. "Please, Beatle Hounds, take it easy," she pleaded, hoping they'd understand, then slipped the tieline and let up on the sled brake. "Up! Up!", she called, as quietly as she could, not trying to excite the dogs. "Hike!"
To her amazement, the dogs started down the driveway at a gentle pace. Giving Ringo credit where credit is due, he realized that this was not a time to get into a mad rush, and he held the team down to a reasonable pace. At the end of the driveway, Tiffany called, "Haw!" and the five dogs turned out onto Busted Axle Road.
"Daddy's going to be mad," Henry prophesized.
"No, he's not," Tiffany said. "He said he could depend on us to get to school, and we're going to make it on time." She raised her voice. "Hike! Hike! Go!" she yelled to the dogs, to speed them up.