As devoted readers recall, our retarded childhood was set in a lovely mountain town. Think "Stand by Me" without Kiefer Sutherland or train tracks (albeit leeches played an unfortunate cameo). We were lucky enough to live within walking distance to Wilmot Elementary. In high school, we drove. In the three intervening years, however, we took the bus to Evergreen Junior High (go, Rams! Wooo!).
To set the cultural stage for you, Foreigner and Boston were relevant, "Barracuda" was our fave song, and our friends were raving about a new flick our folks would never allow us to see because of its "R" rating, but it seemed to be about Vinnie Barbarino prancing about to the Bee-Gees (whom we loathed), so it sounded like a colossal bore and who cared anyway?
Evergreen Junior High started the school day at the obscene hour of 7:15 a.m. and we were at the beginning of the bus route. That meant, for three torturous years, we waited in the dark at the end of a long dirt driveway, shivering in a snow drift at 6 a.m. When the headlights came down the hill and raced past the frozen pond, we were always struck with a mixture of relief and anxiety. On one hand, we could look forward to regaining the feeling in our toes by the time we shuffled into algebra. On the other, our stomach knotted in anticipation of the harrowing hour-and-ten-minute ride that lay before us, courtesy of a spectacularly reckless bus driver named Violet "Vi" Blattner.
We always heard the bus before we saw it; Vi never quite got the hang of the clutch, and the demonic echo of grinding gears always preceded her.
Vi Blattner was a tiny, withered woman who kept her hair dyed jet black and ruthlessly sprayed into an Ethel Mertz bob. She was blind as a bat and wore thick, rhinestone encrusted cat-eye glasses. She always had a lipstick-smeared Pall Mall parked twixt her quivering lips (back when people could spark up a butt in an operating room), and was constantly sliding open her window to flick her ash into the predawn blackness. She had a guttural, smoke-ravaged voice that was somewhere between Harvey Fierstein and a post-possession Linda Blair.
The first thing one noticed about Vi was her profound nervousness. Her bony hands shook so badly she had to fight to keep them on the steering wheel. Years of dodging spitballs while piloting a bus down twisting, ice-covered roads had reduced the poor dear to a tangled mess of tics and twitches, and one had the distinct feeling she was barely held together by nicotine, caffeine and scotch tape. She always had more lipstick on her teeth than on her lips and had a very short fuse.
Just as morons amuse themselves by tacking"in bed" to the end of fortune cookie bon-mots, Vi was wont to add "or I'll give you a D-form!" to the end of every sentence she croaked. "Sit down or I'll give you a D-form!" or "Have a nice day or I'll give you a D-form!" or "Mike Bradley, put that back in your pants or I'll give you a D-form!" We never knew exactly what a D-form was, but we were rather certain we didn't want to be issued anything by Vi Blattner.
But what made Vi Blattner truly memorable was her driving. She would maneuver that bus down steep mountain hills, careening through canyons, skidding through 20-mile-an-hour zones at fifty. She negotiated pine trees, wayward elk, and hairpin curves with the stomach-twisting agility of a master Jedi.
Chevette Dillon was the first to get on the bus, we were second. Then Scott Stewart, Ned Radinsky, Mike Bradley and so on, zipping through thirty-five stops, finally ending with Debbie Durst, a profoundly unfortunate girl cursed with severe acne and epilepsy. In fact, during one of Debbie Durst's frequent and tiresome seizures, someone remarked that she was actually doing an impression of Vi Blattner. We all found it terribly witty (kids are monsters).
By the time we skidded to a stop in front of Evergreen Junior High, we filed from the bus like a bunch traumatized Titanic passengers stumbling out of a lifeboat. We knew we'd barely cheated death, and could very easily have ended the morning as frozen kid-cicles at the bottom of Evergreen Lake, just like those chilly moppets in "The Sweet Hereafter."
We never saw Vi Blattner issue a D-form. We were far better-behaved than any reasonable person can expect from cranky, sleepy twelve-year-olds. The reason is simple; in this era that predated seat belts on school buses, we clasped the the seat until our fingernails left permanent crescents in the naugahyde, else we were unlikely survive to see Mr. Fickey's Intro to Spanish.
From time to time we wonder whatever happened to Vi Blattner. We suspect she spent her dotage at a home for the nervous. Upon meeting her maker, a terrified Saint Peter undoubtedly gave dear, unstable Vi uncontested entry into paradise, upon threat of being issued a D-form.
Vi Blattner sez: "Subscribe to this blog's feed or I'll give you a D-form!"