KEVIN TATE: Last bus home for Christmas was always a fun ride

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The wind that whistled in through the seams of the windows as we rocked along the gravel roads wasn’t as cold and uncomfortable as it had been all the days before. Instead of boring, gray-skied drudge or something we mistook for misery, it carried excitement.
No one slept. No one griped. No one pulled bits of duct tape loose from the seat rip patches and wadded it into anyone else’s hair. It was a happy ride because no demands hung over us that last afternoon before Christmas break.
Each year, once Halloween was over, even with Thanksgiving still to go, my fellow grade school inmates and I set our sights on Christmas, specifically on the last day prior to our holiday parole. Upon completing it, when the bus door finally folded open at our stop that afternoon and sprang us one by one upon the unsuspecting public, we took with us a joy rarely felt since.
There were presents to be asked for and anticipated, sweet days of freedom roaming the yards with BB guns, trips to the creek bottoms and game areas with fathers and uncles armed with rifles or shotguns. In those days, too, the Old Men in charge of our maintenance and behavior generally had constructive activities lined up to keep us out of trouble and out from under foot. There were often trap lines to run or pecans to gather and sell. Water from late fall rains might be backed up behind previously-undiscovered beaver dams, or rabbit populations might be approaching epic plague proportions, both matters requiring our immediate efforts and attention. Rumors of mallards on the move would find us checking the deep bends of the creek as it wound silently, slowly through empty fields laid fallow for winter.
These were the days when we discovered the wonders to be found in a pocket full of shells and access to a place to use them. Never mind Steve McQueen fleeing on a motorcycle, we already knew the outdoors to be the greatest escape of all.
There were no academic requirements pending for the foreseeable future, a period of time in those days not longer than a week. With weeks, plural, of Christmas break lying ahead, the world was wide open, anything seemed possible and probably was. As with most things, my mind has kept the best parts and discarded the rest, forgetting the days and hours but holding fast to the moments. Today the sharp bite of the wind beneath a gunmetal sky or the cold, wet feel of lichens dotting a fallen pecan branch remind me how good coming inside to a fire glowing hot in a Buck stove felt.
At some point Christmas comes to mean not as much looking forward as looking back. Here’s hoping yours holds lots of great memories in both directions this year.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.