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More Important than Air

Monday, May 07, 2018

In the late 1940s, my mom's sister developed breathing problems. Doctors told my grandparents to relocate their young family to the U.S. Southwest where the dry climate would help her recover. But grandpa did not want to go.

Unwilling to permanently leave their Ohio farm, he invented a temporary solution. He shuttered the house, tore out the seats of an old school bus, tossed in some mattresses and his family, and drove them to Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Arizona. Parked on an isolated patch of public land, this was their home for a year.

My mom remembers only fragments of their days in the desert. She recalls quietude and little to do. She and her sister straddled low tree limbs and pretended to ride them like horses. My grandma had sewn pretty pink curtains – replete with festive pompom trim – to make the cavernous bus homier. And my mom's only "toy" was a small porcelain cat which now lives in a dark corner of her china hutch; today, Kitty's ears look more like those of a field mouse, worn blunt and bald of paint after mom's year of idle play under the cottonwoods.

They returned to the farm the following year and discretely parked the old school bus behind the chicken coop. My mom and her sister used it as a clubhouse until the thistles and spiders – and the lure of cute boys and high school dances – took over. Eventually, one of those cute boys married my mom, and they built a house right there on the farm. By the time I discovered the old bus in the 70s, thick vines had cloaked it, and it hummed with unseen bees nests. My brother and I were forbidden from trying to board, so we could only pine through the dusty windows and wonder what relics lay buried inside.

Decades later, doctors advised my parents to make the same move to a dry climate to help temper the effects of my dad's lung disease. But asked to leave, he would not walk away from the house and the creek that roiled around it, the horizon of sighing corn, the school bus shot through with trees. And so, we stayed. My mom still lives there – because, for these men who we loved and lost, the call of home was more important than air.


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