Bus memories bring tragedy home
"Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer. Take one down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall .... "
And so it went, all the way until the bottles of beer were gone, the song was finally over and the group of Grade 6 and 7 student singers were laughing with glee. The high school students at the back of the bus were ignoring the singing by the younger kids, as were the chaperone parents.
The bus driver kept his eye on the gravel road for six hours, focused on safely getting everyone safely from Hay River to Fort Simpson for the 1981 N.W.T. school track and field championships, one of the last events of the school year before summer vacation.
Later, during high school in the Central Okanagan, there was a band trip to Calgary, a class exchange trip to Quebec and a Grade 12 university tour to Vancouver and Victoria. Who didn't spend time riding a bus when they were a kid, travelling with other youngsters to another town for some special event?
Whether it's for sports or music or education, the first time most boys and girls in this country and many other countries around the world leave their homes and their families for longer than overnight is on a bus with other young people like them. We are all Broncos. The international outpouring of grief and support for the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team, the players who died and those who survived the horrible crash, their families and their friends comes from that common experience. We all rode the bus. We've all sent our children on the bus. We are all Broncos. Those long rides on the bus are some of the greatest childhood and teenage memories many of us have.
Songs were sung, games were played, music was listened to, arguments raged, lifelong friendships were cemented, romances were formed and then either explored or crushed, all to a noisy soundtrack of laughter.
It was our first, brief taste of freedom, of adulthood, of having an identity outside of being the son or daughter of our parents. Riding a bus was important. Not everybody made the team or the band or was chosen to represent their school or their community. For the first time, we were somebody important on our way to do something important and the bus took us there. We are all Broncos. Neil Godbout is managing editor of The Prince George Citizen.