NaNoWriMo Approaches!

NaNo…(Drum roll)…WriMo! It is upon us!

It is hard to believe, if you are an aspiring fiction writer, that you haven’t heard of National Novel Writers Month, aka, “NaNoWriMo.” Days and months are assigned to different causes, such as Pink October, National Cupcake Day (conveniently on my birthday), Mother’s Day, Black History Month, etc. About 20 years ago someone came up with the crazy idea of assigning the month of November to novel writers.

I used to be fairly happy with writing short stories. But it happened that I was no longer satisfied with a few pages. I would read books and think, Could I do this? I do believe I could! But how? How does one start? What was my method, the one that would work for me? How was I supposed to know what to put at the beginning and the middle if I didn’t know how it ended? And all that other stuff that paralyzes people who need a lot of control in their lives. My writing was slow and careful; I edited as I went along, and then edited again. I still tend toward that, but what generally improved my capacity to write was when I discovered NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo basically says, “Just shove the blankety-blank words on to the page! Let your fingers tappety-type like mad, hauling words out of your reptile brain, scraping them through the cerebrum only long enough to lightly baste them with sentence order, and fling them onto your computer screen. Or, if you hearken back to yore, when people used quill and ink, let your Papermate fly across the spiral-bound notebook. 

Now do that every day, for 30 days, the entire month of November. Until you have 50,000 words, which works out to about 200 pages. And there you have it: Welcome to your first novel! Or your 19th, if you’ve been keeping up every year.

Why is this a fun thing to do? For me, its because it breaks the rules I am trapped by with my careful writing. If the goal is to get material on the page because I can’t afford to fall behind, then I will just keep the words coming, sometimes surprising myself. More often, amusing myself with all the purple prose available to my nimble fingers. 

It’s also fun because a whole lot of other people are doing it. This is the first year that I’m going to meet up with some other local participants, under a local “ML” (Municipal Liaison). Tonight we are all supposed to meet each other at a local restaurant. Writing is a very solitary activity for me. I need to be able to concentrate and get into my own head without distractions. But there is something cool about knowing that lots of other people are doing the same thing you are, separately but together. Sort of like individual events at a track meet. With cupcakes. Somehow I’m going to work cupcakes into this month.

What am I going to write about? Heck! I don’t know yet! I still have a couple days! I know I’ll get a better start if I at least come up with a scenario before the 1st, though I have started before on the first morning with just a pen and a blank piece of paper in front of me.

I’m thinking that I will spend Halloween evening coming up with something. 

If I can get past the 2 week point (where I usually crash and burn) then I might share some of what I’m writing. It could be hilarious. But in the meantime, I thought I’d share a few previous years’ excerpts. This is one I started on a November 1st with a blank sheet (if that’s not obvious). Maybe you can see me reaching for the answer to….(cue scary music)… The Secret of Kevin. 


Like waves rolling and breaking further up the sand, now drawing back, then reaching forward, consciousness slowly came to Kevin. He still felt the paralysis of deep sleep, felt like his body was encased in plaster, and he couldn’t twitch so much as a finger, but his mind was beginning to move from the night towards the day. With great effort, he managed to open his eyes halfway. They felt sticky. Bright light from an open curtain washed across his vision, and for a moment Kevin felt the room begin to spin. Or was it his body spinning? He couldn’t tell. His head ached, and his mouth felt sour. Had he overslept until his body rebelled, or did he have the biggest hangover of his young life? He moaned and heard the pitiful sound as he exhaled. 

I can’t remember anything, he thought.

Kevin blinked repeatedly until his eyes cleared up and he could see that he was stretched out on a sofa. The sofa was dark green velour with a raised pattern on it that held onto his clothes as he attempted to slide up to a near sitting position. What the Hell has happened to me? he thought as he felt the rise of nausea in his stomach. He looked around.

Where am I? When is this? Who am I? Kevin felt a little panicked until he pulled his thoughts under control. My name is Kevin. I’m 20 years old. I go to school. No, wait, I did go to school, but now, what? Did I finish? It’s ok, calm down, he told himself. It will come. Something a little unusual has happened to you, and you are fine. To test that, he looked on his body and felt his head for any signs of blood or bruises. All clear. He rubbed his eyes and looked around the room. 

It was a standard type living room. Sofa, recliner, TV set in the corner, one big picture window with the beige linen curtains pulled wide open, letting the hot western sun pour into the room. He felt like a stranger in someone else’s house, yet there was a niggling thought at the back of his mind that he should know more about the place than he could call to mind. A heavy thirst and a driving need for the facilities moved Kevin away from his effort of thinking and to the effort of getting up.

Bracing himself against the arm of the sofa, Kevin rose to his feet. He swayed a bit, and then the room quit spinning, and he could get his bearings. He walked past the kitchen and to the second door on the left. As he put his hand on the knob, he wondered why he knew exactly where the bathroom was if he was a stranger in the house? He swung the door open, went inside and took care of his greatest need. Then he turned to the sink to splash some cool water on his face and cupped his hands for a few sips of the water. Facing the mirror, Kevin felt a cold shock. It wasn’t the yellowing of old bruises on his face or the wild unruly blond hair that looked not to have been taken care of for weeks. And it wasn’t his bloodshot eyes or tattered, soiled shirt that made his stomach lurch. It was the coffee-colored words, written in lipstick on the mirror that said, “Go Home.”

“Café Mocha,” Kevin said softly, smearing a bit of the “G” onto his index finger and smelling it.

Upcoming Projects October

Along with promoting my new book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, I have been working on several other projects. Getting back from vacation, having new flooring installed, trying to wrap up some important personal paperwork—they have slowed me down, but now I’m settling back into writing. 

One of my looming projects is NaNoWriMo, the nickname of National Novel Writers Month, which is the month of November. A post on that one to come later. I have also been working on a shorter novel that I plan on releasing as a free ebook on Kindle. I won’t let it out until I’m satisfied with the quality and the story, so just because it will be free won’t mean it is junk reading! I’m also brainstorming the next Valeria adventure, and I do have some promising story ideas I’m exploring and outlining.

The project you will see next on my site is something a little different. Some years ago my mother let me interview her to create a memoir of her growing-up years in the Ozarks. She was the last of her siblings and wanted her nieces and nephews to know more about the early days of their family. She called it her “Heritage Book,” and gave out photocopies to family members at our reunions. My mother, Mildred, recently passed away, and I wanted a way to make the history more available to friends and family who wanted to read it. I also believe that her story will be interesting to others, as an American journey, from “there to here.”

Reading her story over again makes me aware of how many others have untold interesting stories of their own journeys. 

I set out to make it an ebook and a paperback book. I do not plan on making a profit on either version, so if I can offer the kindle version free, I will. The paperback, through Amazon, will only cost what it takes to have it printed and handled.

I’m excited about how close we are to putting Mom’s “Ozark Heritage” book out there, and I will be putting it on my website as soon as it is live!

Fun at the Book Release Party!!

Good friends are a treasure, and I feel grateful that I have them in my life!

My Dear Friend Kelly told me she would like to give me a new book release party, and what fun we had! Not only that, but she presented me with a membership in the Exeter Chamber of Commerce! We had the party in the lovely little park beside the Chamber last Sunday with tea and cupcakes and props from the story in the book scattered around. I had some lovely surprises as many old friends showed up to help me celebrate. We even drew in a random stranger walking her dog by the park! 

I read a couple pages from my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, selecting something exciting that is neither part of the excerpt on on website, nor the first chapter available to read on Amazon. After the reading, we strolled down the street to the huge mural of the orange grove. I wanted a picture of me standing by the secret little girl peeping through the leaves of one of the orange trees. Exeter is well-known for its many, beautiful murals. Tourists go out of their way to Exeter to go on guided mural-walks. Check it out here.

I appreciated so much my audience’s faith in me and in my book by buying some copies! I know that books in this genre will mostly be sold in paperback, but I want to remind anyone who prefers ebooks that my book is available electronically also. You can find it not only on Amazon’s Kindle, but from many other sources. Just click on the “Buy Now” button and check them out!

And now my mind won’t stay still, roaming around, trying to find out what Valeria is up to next!

What is a “Yonder Tree” Anyway?

What’s the “Yonder Tree?”

You might have noticed my little printing logo, “Yonder Tree Book House,” that I have tucked away at the foot of my website and on the cover of my book, “Valeria & The Enemy of Time” (and future books that I am planning out and working on). And you might have wondered, where in the world did that come from? 

“Yonder” is one of those old-fashion words that tickles me. It fits in the same category that other words like, “folks, butter beans, rest a spell, I’ll swain, and fetch me a glass of tea,” rest in. Sometimes these words work when a more modern one won’t. Which sounds better, “I’ll swain! It’s the folks! Come rest a spell; Ma will fetch you a glass of tea while I dish you up some hot butter beans!” or “Goodness! It’s the relatives! Come and sit down; Mom will bring you some tea while I portion out some mature lima beans, cooked soft with a bit of ham.”

One of my favorite song titles is a Bill Monroe instrumental called “Come Hither to Go Yonder.” But now, let’s go to where the word really stuck in my ear. 

“My Book House, In the Nursery.” That was the title of an old 1930’s nursery rhyme book my sister gave me for my kids. The illustrations are charming and the verses and tales are quaint and taken from different parts of the world. One day I came in and heard my husband singing (singing!!) a song from the book to one of the kiddos sitting on his lap. He was totally making up the tune, but it seemed to fit. It was “The Barnyard,” and it started like this: 

I had a cat and the cat pleased me,

I fed my cat under yonder tree,

And my little cat went fiddle-dee-dee.

You work your way through pigs and ducks and finally to a baby, and they all get fed under yonder tree. I recently did a little search and found lots of variations. Most don’t start with a cat, but I like the idea of the One Who Feeds starting with her little kitty cat.

A couple years ago I made a few batches of mead. A bottle of mead just doesn’t look right without a cool label, so I created “Yonder Tree Meadery” and slapped cute labels on the bottles. When I decided to make a publishing logo for myself, I was still feelin’ it, so I used the ol’ Yonder Tree again.

I like to think of how a tree seems to match up to play, good times, and reading. I imagine a perfect summer day would be perched up in a comfy chair in a tree house, a cold drink at hand, a snack, and all the time in the world to read the good book in your hand, itself made from the fibers of a tree.

Book Release Party this Weekend!

For all my friends and family and potential new readers of my book… my dear friend, Kelly Ross Rider of Exeter, CA is hosting a New Book Release Party for my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time!!!

This is so very exciting for me. My greatest pleasure is having lots of people read my book and enjoy the world and characters I created. I’m hoping to get the word out to as many people who might be interested in coming. There will be tea and cakes (CAKES! I’ve been dying for cake lately), I will find an exciting section to read out loud (maybe something with voices or sound effects), and I will have some books for sale there (even autographed, If you like).

It is coming up very soon. This coming Sunday afternoon, October 20th, at 1:30pm. The address is: Exeter chamber of commerce park, located behind the Chamber at 101 W Pine St, Exeter. At some point we/whoever wants will walk to the huge orange grove mural nearby and take a picture. (And if you are familiar with my book, you will understand the significance of that!)

I’m looking forward to being back in my old stomping grounds in Exeter and Lemoncove this weekend. I am going to the first ever Sequoia Union Elementary School reunion that weekend. That is a special place where I spent 9 years of my life! In fact, I have dedicated my book to all the young readers of that school. I have many fond memories of the library there (tucked into what used to be the 4th grade classroom at the time) and the monthly Scholastic Book order papers, which brought worlds of excitement and knowledge to our hot little hands, for about a quarter each.

Hope to see you in Exeter on Sunday afternoon!

Pet Rats

In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, I use a rat as a symbol for the mysterious “enemy” that Valeria and Theo encounter. The rat that pops up here and there is also a representation of the pestilence the children go up against in medieval Italy, the Black Death. Our black rat of the book is not a nice guy. 

I watched a documentary several months ago on Netflix called “Rats.” I’m not even going to try to explain it. I’ll let Wikipedia do that.


The film primarily focuses on rat infestations and exterminations, including methods such as night-patrol teams in Mumbai snapping rats’ necks and the practice of rat-baiting in England. Much of the documentary has been considered a detailing of “the ‘war’ against rats”, featuring “bashing, slicing, dissecting and poisoning”. The director also journeys to the Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan, India, where over 35,000 black rats are revered by devotees who believe them to be reincarnated human beings.

Release and Reception:

The documentary premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 2016. The film premiered on television on October 22, 2016, airing on the Discovery Channel.

The Daily Telegraph reported on the film’s trailer for its “stomach-churning footage” and “disturbing scenes”, with writer Rebecca Hawkes noting that the trailer’s footage, which includes live rats being killed by terriers, “will likely provoke a strong response from viewers”. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the documentary “plays much like a horror film”, and in reference to the terrier scene, called it “an absolute bloodbath … with filters appropriate for a zombie apocalypse”. Wendy Ide of The Guardian wrote that the film is “gleefully exploitative in its approach, and as such, it is horribly entertaining”. Peter Debruge of Variety called the film “super-disgusting” and “[un]fair to the animals in question, who would surely view this as a grisly, “Faces of Death”-style marathon of murder”, writing that “rarely has a filmmaker more blatantly manipulated the material he has collected to game his audience”.

There you have it: Rats. But what about real rats? As in “pet rats?”

When my sister and I were younger, we had a pair of pet rats. They were young and cute. I can’t remember where we got them, but one was white with brown markings, and the other was white with black markings, which was mine. We had no idea what gender they were, but we named them “Shirley” and “Harold,” after our aunt and uncle we especially loved. I don’t know if we ever told them about our rats, but I’m sure they would have been honored to know we named our rats after them. 

They lived in a cage that was really too small. We would lay down layers of newspapers, which they would promptly tear up into a huge pile of shreds and burrow around in, pooping and peeing on it. When my dad would notice the odor, he would order us to clean the cage. Only when he said that did I think, Oh! Yes, I guess it smells a little bit! 

We took them out of the cage fairly often, as I recall. My favorite thing was to set a rat up on my shoulder and let it nuzzle around, weaving through my long curly hair. Several times my sister and I took our rats on expeditions. We walked up to our little elementary school just up the lane from our house, rats on shoulders. The kindergarten had a completely enclosed play yard. The wall was made of smooth, painted concrete blocks. We climbed over the wall (I’m still trying to remember exactly how we did that!) and let our rats run around while we played with them. The only place we had to keep them away from was a gate off to the corner, which they could have crawled under. Bell bottoms were coming into fashion, and sometimes our rats would decided to run under the hem and dash up our legs. The only scary thing about that was I was afraid it would crawl up so far it would get wedged in and then squished as I tried to extricate it. 

Those little rats were sturdy and continued to thrive in spite of our lack of knowledge on how to care for them. Eventually, we re-homed them to someone else who wanted them.

I think a rat can be a great pet. But just like the wild dogs in my book, rats as pests are another matter. When you read my book, I hope you enjoy the creepy moments when the rat pops up in the story!

Wild Dog

“…the dhole, the red hunting-dog of the Dekkan, was moving to kill, and the Pack knew well that even the tiger will surrender a new kill to the dhole. They drive straight through the Jungle, and what they meet they pull down and tear to pieces.”

“The Second Jungle Book”—Kipling

Yes, my timid younger self had some natural fear of strange dogs, but my imagination was able to take that and run with it when I read some of my favorite books.

When I was writing the “Oh no! Disaster!” scenes in my new book, Valeria and the Enemy of Time, I knew one of them had to include a ferocious wild dog. And why not make that two ferocious wild dogs? Because a pack of something is usually more disastrous than one. Before I let myself go in writing that scene, I had to think about the relationships people have with their dogs. Pet dogs can be a beloved family member, a hard-working companion, a child’s playmate, or a search and rescue lifesaver. Dogs have probably the closest, most personal relationship to our species than any other animal I can think of. But wild, feral dogs are another matter. If we don’t count mosquitos, next to snakes, dogs are the most deadly animals on earth, for causing human deaths. I am handily adding in rabies as a dog-death factor.

I am still uneasy around unfamiliar dogs. But when I was Valeria’s age, around 12, I was pretty fearful. I don’t remember being especially afraid of dogs when I was a lot younger. We always had dogs around the place, and the neighbors all had dogs, and nobody kept them fenced in. When my younger sister was in around the 4th grade, she got a fairly severe dog bite on her forearm. Severe to me meant that she needed stitches. Afterwards, we all went over the event in detail, back and forth, trying to figure it out, why it happened. Our dog was having an altercation with another dog, and my sister stepped between them just as our own dog lunged at the other one, and her arm got slashed by our dog’s teeth. That was the way we finally described it. I don’t remember that making me anxious around dogs, but somehow, I grew scared of them.

We used to walk to our little country school from a neighborhood lane. At the end of the lane, just across the road from the school was a ramshackle house on the corner. When I was in the 8th grade, those people got a dog. It would bark and run out at people. It terrified me. I would hang around either before or after crossing the road, just waiting for my sisters or maybe some of the neighbor kids to meander out to walk home so that I wouldn’t be alone. If someone was walking with me, I could just be cool, make sure that they were walking on the side that the dog would come running out, barking at us. If I killed time there, pretending to check the mailbox again, milling around, but no one came along to escort me home, then I had to go solo. I’d try to be quiet, but no use. My heart leaped in my chest as I’d see the black shape darting out from behind the house and tearing out after me. Sometimes I ran, but it was no use. “Seal,” the little black puppy ran faster than I could. I imagined his sharp little puppy teeth nipping my ankles, and was very afraid.

Fears and phobias don’t necessarily have anything to do with reality. I believe I have a more realistic sense of canine danger now, but I can still access that childhood imagination of the slashing teeth, rabies, the Red Dog pulling me down and tearing me apart, if ever I need it.

A Convenient Horse

In my new book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, Valeria comes face-to-face with one of her biggest fears, a creature she hopes never to have to approach, but one that might give her a hope of completing her task. What could this menacing object be, this bugaboo of tremors? Of course, it’s a horse.

I know that 50 percent of my readers will laugh at this, scoff at the idea. They just don’t understand us, the non-horsey people. We look at the towering beasts and see feet that could squash our toes like grapes, teeth that could bite off our lower lip, bony heads that could break our noses, and heels that could send us into a coma. The other 50 percent will be nodding their heads in agreement with me. Where do I get my statistics from? Mostly my family. 

(Okay, now you want to know where I get my maiming list. I had a friend who had a Standardbred stomp on her foot, and the word came back to me that he “squashed her toe like a grape.” A friend of my husband was riding when her horse threw his head back and broke her nose. For the coma, I am positive I have heard of someone getting kicked like that before, but thankfully, I must have blocked it out of my memory, And the lip thing, my mother would tell us the story of the girl who liked to kiss her horse on the mouth, and one day the horse reached up and bit her lip off. It is possible my mom was just trying to keep my sisters from kissing their horses, or maybe this particular urban legend really was true. She wasn’t a horse person, so I admit that challenges her believability.)

Yes, it is a small study, but I stand by it. Of my parents, my dad fancied himself somewhat of a horse-rider. And if he wasn’t one, at least he had a horse, and he rode it on occasion. My mom? Never! My two sisters took riding lessons, had horses, read horse books, played at horses, and went for long horse rides. My brother and me? Not interested. I  had one point of attraction, a new book my older sister had, The Black Stallion. It sounded so interesting that I was able to overlook the fact that it starred a horse, and I asked to read it. Sensing her advantage, she made a deal with me. It was always important for her to have other people like and participate in the things she enjoyed, so she struck a bargain. Let her give me basic horse lessons, and she would let me read it. I dutifully obeyed her, and to this day I still remember that those round leather thingys on the saddle with strings coming out of them are called “buttons,” that the warty flat spots inside the legs are called “chestnuts,” and you keep your heels down and never drop your reins. 

When I married my husband, I didn’t have any idea that he was a horse person. He never told me. Just one of those surprises that people will drop on you after years of marriage. If he had, maybe I wouldn’t have been so surprised when two of my children turned out to be horse people. My other two, of course were non-horsey people.

I rode my sister’s horse maybe three times, I think behind another rider. I can’t imagine that I would have gotten on all by myself, but maybe I was braver than I remember. Not too long ago I rode a horse in a tour of Garden of the Gods. They asked who was a novice, and my hand shot up as fast as I could jerk it out of my pocket. If they were going to give the easy horse to anyone, it needed to be me.

When the time came for Valeria and Theo to consider a more efficient way to get along in their journey, the time period was correct for using a horse. And right away, I knew how she would react to that—with mixed feelings. She would accept the need, but “don’t expect me to touch that lead rope!” I enjoyed working her through the process of her acceptance and perhaps even affection for the old horse, just like I could try to imagine that happening to me in her situation. I really don’t know how well I really would have adapted, but I am proud to say Valeria got outside her comfort zone. And who knows, maybe she will discover she really is a horse person after all!

Our Big Playground—The Orange Grove

I can’t think of a better place to have grown up than our three-acre country place in Lemoncove. The neighborhood was a collection of a dozen houses like our rambling three-acre place, or on scattered lots. We went to each other’s houses to play and ride horses, we rode our bikes up and down the lane, and we lolled about thinking up games to play in our back yards. But the adventure of living in our neighborhood was not the places we lived on, it was what surrounded us.

Living at the edge of the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains meant that the terrain had a gently rolling aspect. It was not a far hike to the actual slope of the closest foothill by us, the first one in a string. If you climbed to the top, you could follow the ridge line all the way to Barbies’ Sandwich and Gift Shop, a couple miles away by road. I’m not sure if our mom knew how far we actually roamed. I don’t think we thought to tell her. She just expected us back around a certain time, and we tried to keep to that so no one would worry. But the best playground was the land between us and the mountain. 

Walking out from our back pasture took us to an older orange grove. Orange groves were all around us, everywhere. But this one felt like it belonged to us. We knew it. We knew all the hidden surprises, like the old dump in it. When a kid got a new BB gun, that was the first place to go. Line up all the beer bottles and see if you could hit them. A few rows had a random grapefruit tree and couple lemon trees tucked away in them. When we needed a lemon, Mom sent us out to fetch one. 

This was the “thermal belt,” an optimum temperature zone for citrus that ran along the lower flank of the foothills, and the grove accommodated the ups and downs of the ground. A decomposed granite pit within the grove was occasionally used by the owner, (we didn’t think of it being OWNED by anyone!) And when they would haul some truckloads out, part of our playground would be rearranged, to our delight. My sister was always the brilliant namer-of-things. The area around the DG pit was “Sandune,” and the hillock beside it that had been sliced off for material was “Flat-Top Mountain.” 

The orange trees were a little elderly and had not been maintained like other groves in the area. Some were very large; they were not topped regularly. Since then, the grove has been refurbished and maintained, but at the time, it seemed more wild and wooly. The branches were not kept trimmed off the ground. In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, when I needed to come up with Valeria’s and Theo’s “adventure land” to roam in and let their imaginations guide their play, right away I thought of my dream to create a playhouse within the inner hollow of an orange tree.

The trees were not perfectly hollow. Most had a few pesky leafless branches that messed up your headspace for walking around inside. But they were close to the ideal, with hedge-like evergreen leaves concealing the inner space, all the way to the ground. Clumps of Johnson grass grew here and there, further hiding any potential clubhouse activity. Our grove was a perfect place to “get lost in,” because we never truly got really lost, just enjoyed the challenge of finding our way back out again.

Orange trees and groves will always make me reminisce about my childhood!

Bus Number Thirteen

A school bus wreck? Where did that come from!

I had a creative writing teacher once who insisted that we write stories that originated from our own personal lives, transformed into fiction. She insisted it made a story more real to the reader, with the details and emotion that couldn’t be totally fabricated. I had to admit it was true. Stories made from whole cloth might be exciting and interesting, but they don’t feel as real, as if they really were true. And that is exactly what we chase, a story that is true in all but reality.

In my book, Valeria & The Enemy of Time, I start the book out with a bus wreck. A charter bus actually suffers the wreck, but Valeria’s school bus is involved. I wrote up my first draft, doing a little revising, until the time came to step back and analyze things like, is the first chapter of the book exciting enough to make people want to read more? I had to admit it was not. So what I needed was another chapter to put in front. Something that might introduce the book, and in some way tie it up again at the end. An event in my own life came to mind. 

The Exeter Union High School Foggy Day Wreck of Bus Number Thirteen

I remember it well. I may not remember it accurately, but I remember it well. It was a foggy day in November or December 1974. Tulare County had thick thick fog. In fact, it was known as “Tule Fog,” and it made everything more than six feet away disappear into a thick gray blanket. It would linger for weeks, but everyone soldiered through. Even the school bus schedule. Kids in other parts of the country might have Snow Days, a day off from school because the busses couldn’t get through. You’d think they would realize that NO ONE COULD SEE THE ROAD AHEAD on foggy foggy days, and that it wasn’t safe to be out there driving around, especially a school bus full of kids, stopping periodically on narrow road shoulders to pick up kids. But no, they didn’t make allowances for fog.

So on that foggy morning, the busses were running as usual. That winter day it was so very very foggy, it seemed to me the bus driver had more trouble than usual making out the lone kids standing there, waiting for the bus on the shoulder of the country road, winding through orange groves and foothills. State Highway 198 was a main artery feeding the kids from country homes to the high school in the modest-sized town of Exeter. As the highway left the margin of the foothills to head out towards Exeter, it made a “swoop” just before the Yokohl Valley turn-off. 

Everything was normal, even the thick gray fog outside the bus windows. The bus was about half full, kids chattering, having fun, waiting to get to school, interested in the novelty of the bus driver barely seeing kids at their stops in time. We were preparing to make the “swoop.” One kid had a stop just before it. Whoosh! The driver didn’t see her quite in time and stopped a little further down the road. I wonder why the driver thought it would be less safe for the girl to walk a little ways down the shoulder toward the bus than to back the bus up to the girl? No matter. We backed up. The shoulder was wide enough, with some asphalt, some sandy loam. That alluvial sandy loam that was so perfect for healthy orange groves. We backed. But the driver did not take into account the curve. We had already entered the “swoosh” part, but she went straight, sending the tail of the school bus out into the roadway.

When I felt the impact, I thought we had backed into a telephone pole. Sure, it was tremendously higher in force, but the brain tries to put a new thing into an old slot. (Okay, we had never backed into telephone poles before, but it was easy to imagine!) It was a huge moment of noise and dust and broken glass and an impression of seat backs bent back a few inches from the force of kids’ backs slamming into them from the impact. I remember seeing a girl a few seats ahead of me holding her head in confusion, blood trickling down her hand. My things were scattered about. The mother of the girl waiting for the bus ran over and began helping to get kids out of the bus. Hurry hurry! Get out! Come along! Before I could gather my things, (¡Mis Cosas!) they hustled me off the bus along with the rest of the kids. I remember the wide-eyed girl telling how she saw the whole thing happen before her eyes. I remember the insane rumors flying about one of the boys who “lost half his liver.” I remember the teary face of our bus driver being comforted by the girl’s mother, a bus driver herself. I remember them giving me my wallet back later on. I’d never noticed it was missing from my purse. I’d never had whiplash before, and it was the most strange feeling to not be able to lift my head from the gymnastics mat for 3 days.

What had happened was this: A gravel truck with two trailers was driving the road at 55 mph, when all of a sudden a school bus hind end came into his view directly in front of him. He swerved and missed. Mostly. The last trailer clipped the back of the bus and changed things forever, not only for Exeter Union High School, but all of Tulare County. 

Let us welcome the advent of the Foggy Day Bus Schedule.