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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

School and Riding the Bus

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

Is there anything of which one can say,

“Look! This is something new”?

It was here already, long ago;

it was here before our time.

(Ecclesiastes 1:10)

In the Boulder area, it would start snowing each year on or around Halloween and usually stop snowing in April or May. (One year it started in August, and once we had snow in June.) However, school was rarely canceled because of snow. The state and county were efficient at clearing it. I only remember a time or two when we got around three feet of snow in a twenty-four-hour period, and school was closed. More often, high winds would close Boulder schools.

About once a year in Boulder, we had what we called, “January winds” though they happened in other months as well. The wind would come sweeping down across the plains with hurricane force off the Flatirons of the Rocky Mountains. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “Boulder has some of the highest peak winds of any city in the US.”[1] The winds would get up to 120 mph with even higher gusts on occasion. They would regularly blow over trucks and even house trailers.

One year, getting up to around 130 mph, the winds blew part of the roof of our house off. They also flattened a classmate’s nearby three-story house that was still in the framing stage. That was a very small portion of the damage done by the winds that year.

As the storm began, I can still picture my dad and our neighbor’s dad out trying to round up plywood that had blown away. It was all they could do to get it back and to put it somewhere the winds wouldn’t take it again. I remember at the pitch of the storm being fascinated and scared at the same time by the force of the wind as tiny grains of sand came seeping in through very small holes in the aluminum window frame to make little piles on the windowsill. My folks had all of us kids stay downstairs. At one point, we heard the tearing of a portion of the roof as it began to lift and then blow off. We didn’t know until afterward, the main damage was over the garage. Though hearing the sound of the roof pulling away was alarming, I wasn’t terrified. Between my dad’s faith and his know-how, I believed one way or another we would be okay. We were all praying.

Another year, when my dad was driving me to school, we didn’t know how but a wind gust blew a rock larger than a man’s fist through the front window of the car, shattering it to pieces. (The window was designed to break into tiny, pre-sized bits so there wouldn’t be sharp edges.) My dad carefully pulled out what he needed to be able to see and to keep the glass bits from blowing in on us with the next big gust. Unsurprisingly, school ended up being canceled that day.

The school bus regularly picked us up about a third of a mile from our home at our mailboxes. Many days on the way to the bus stop, we would lift our coats above our heads, extending them between our arms like sails, and “fly” the last quarter mile to our mailboxes. A few times I beat the bus getting to the stop when I should have been late. Walking home from the bus stop the wind sometimes felt like a tangible, though unsteady, force trying to push me back. Head down, body scrunched, and leaning into it, I’d force my way home. The wind was isolating. We couldn’t talk with each other or interact much when it was blowing like this. It took all we had to get ourselves home. The neighbor kids’ mom gave all the younger kids that she could fit in her car, a ride home.

A favorite winter-time competition between my siblings, the neighbor kids, and me on our way to or from the bus stop was being the first to bust, with a booted foot, the thin ice coating over the many puddles of various sizes in our rough dirt road. We also liked to hurl rocks or dirt clods to see who could throw the farthest or the most accurately. The older or larger kids were given the handicap of having to find larger rocks or clods to chuck. If there was water in the large, irrigation ditch near the road, we might stop to race sticks, grasses, or other floatable objects under a bridge or for a certain length of the canal.

Waiting for and riding the bus to and from school was one of my least favorite past times. However, because I lived miles from my schools, elementary through high school, walking wasn’t generally an option. Depending on the school bus driver, the ride could be barely bearable to hellish. I liked the drivers that enforced rules better than the ones who were permissive and let the kids do whatever they wanted. Usually, I would spend the time starting homework or reading a book if I could; if the kids on the bus didn’t get too rowdy. (By this means, I developed unusual powers of concentration.)

While I was still in elementary school, one of the older boys who rode the same bus began regularly teasing and picking on me. I tried to avoid him without success. He’d inevitably find a way to sit in a seat near mine. One day on the way home from school, he turned around in the seat in front of me, and he began to hassle and heckle me in earnest. Finally, this time, for whatever reason, he got more of a rise out of me than he’d anticipated. In total frustration turned into rash anger, I hit him with my empty but metal, thermos-containing, Hogan’s Heroes lunch box. Besides being surprised he must have gotten hurt by it. He quickly turned around to assess his wounds with his friends. I don’t think the bus driver even noticed.

Immediately, I felt bad and was worried I might have really hurt him, but I wasn’t going to confess this openly or try to find out. I didn’t look at him when I got off the bus. I worried all the rest of that day and until the next day, when, for the first and only time ever, I was called to the principal’s office for doing something wrong. Shaking with fear and trepidation, I admitted to my crime and promised never to retaliate this way again. I was secretly glad to learn the boy wasn’t hurt too badly. Later, this fact also let me relish that I’d at least gotten some respect out of him. He never pestered me again.

Toward the end of sixth grade, my last year of elementary school, weather allowing, I would walk the two-and-a-half miles home from school. I enjoyed these relatively few walks immensely. They appealed to my introverted soul and made me feel somewhat grown up and independent. Middle school was too far away to walk home. High school was even further away, but we had LDS “seminary” in the morning before school then, so I had a ride or drove to school from church every school day. After school, I was often able to drive or catch a ride with someone. I rarely rode the bus in high school.

In middle school, I became more social on our bus rides. I’d talk with kids from my classes or friends who lived in the area. I liked talking with one boy in particular. I thought he was cute and he was the son of a psychologist and we always had interesting conversations. We didn’t always sit together; but when we did, I liked talking with him. Sometimes, he’d tell me why he didn’t believe there is a God, and I’d tell him why I believed there is. Then one day, this boy wasn’t there. He was missing from school and the bus for several days. It seemed like a long time before I learned why. He’d committed suicide. I couldn’t understand this. He had never seemed depressed, just a little troubled at times.

He wasn’t the first of my school friends to be troubled. By sixth grade, many of my classmates were eager to experiment with drugs, alcohol, sex, the occult, and whatever else sparked their curiosity. I think most of them were trying to fill a void—that in truth, only God can fill—or they were just wanting to fit in as I was. Some of them ventured without much hindrance, either because they did things behind their parents’ backs, or because their parents were uninvolved in their lives. My friend who committed suicide had boasted he had access to drugs and could do whatever he wanted because his parents were never home—especially his dad. A lot of times, when other kids knew someone’s parents weren’t going to be home, over a weekend especially, it was the signal for an all-night party at their house.

Because my own parents were kindly permissive (to avoid “contention”?) and distracted with hyper-busyness, it was a good thing I was well aware of their and the LDS church’s general expectations or standards. It helped keep my conscience active. Even so, another disagreeable thing I did in relation to school, besides hitting someone with my lunch box, was intentionally disturbing and talking out in class in disrespect to some of my teachers. I did this because I wanted to prove I wasn’t just a goody-goody. I wanted to be “in,” even though I didn’t want to participate in the kinds of activities that were against our LDS Standards. I described in another chapter how I also sewed my own clothes trying to fit in. Wearing things my parents would never buy for me, such as a bikini and a mini-skirt, was a short-lived exception.[2]

In junior high, causing trouble in class and being obnoxious and disrespectful to teachers was my main way of trying to belong. I’d learned how to harass a teacher from elementary school watching other children. We had a science teacher who regularly came to school slightly buzzed with alcohol or marijuana. I didn’t understand why the teacher spoke or acted so nonsensically sometimes, until some of the more savvy students started speculating. Some of the students were heartlessly disruptive and disrespectful to this teacher. Sad to say, once I thought I knew why, I stopped feeling compassion for this teacher and even silently cheered my classmates on in their escapades to make this teacher’s life even more miserable than it must have been. I felt he deserved their mistreatment.

But why would I want to harass a teacher who didn’t deserve it? She was a member of the LDS Church, who love and respected my parents, and she was favoring me, trying to make me into a teacher’s pet. Or so I thought. I felt terrible for acting so badly to her in return, but at the same time, I wasn’t having it. I didn’t want to be singled out this way. She was teaching junior high sewing and tailoring, a class I really liked, so it was doubly hard being so ornery to her, but I somehow managed it anyway. However, by the end of that class, she had stopped singling me out, and I had stopped responding with hostility. Also, when she began pointedly ignoring my quests for help with a project, it finally brought me around to an apology.

An inept music teacher who also blatantly spoke against God, got the brunt of my explorations into the mistreatment of teachers. This teacher got my hackles fully up and my total despite played out in various hostilities—generally vocal, maybe except for some wadded papers thrown or spit wads shot through a straw across the room.

Also deserving in my eyes of mistreatment was my French teacher who regularly persecuted one of the cutest boys in class, who was a friend to me. She also complained and often wondered aloud why she troubled herself to put up with us. We believed she only loved her poodle and thoroughly disliked us. In talking back to her or making snide comments, I felt I was just agreeing with her. Anything else we did behind her back was a bonus.

Eventually, I came to terms with both of these teachers as they spoke with me in person and even somewhat changed their approaches. I couldn’t help but ease up. My conscience was greatly relieved by this. I never again felt the need to harass my teachers.

I also tried fitting in by regularly complaining about our one-piece gym suits everyone seemed to hate. They were made of comfortable cotton-knit fabric. The suit had navy shorts and a sleeveless white-and-navy-striped top that zipped up the back. I didn’t really mind the gym suit. Everyone had to wear them so it kind of leveled the playing field, style-wise, while we were involved in P. E. (Physical Education). This was only the beginning. Complaining was a way to make conversation and have something in common with the other girls.

Complaining was the most cohesive pastime we shared in junior high. Sometimes it just wore me out, but it was the thing to do. We complained about classes, teachers, lunches, friends (behind their backs), our school, parents, and whatever other topic kids would bring up. I didn’t like it much, but it united me with my school friends. I eventually gave it up. It was exhausting and dehumanizing.

It was far more exhausting even than losing a good night’s sleep toilet-papering someone’s house. Things like that later seemed like a waste, too. Most of the social episodes we engaged in during those years were useless and frivolous. Probably because most of them were highly self-centered encounters of the middle-school kind. Sometimes I felt the emptiness of these engagements more than at other times. These kinds of interactions weren’t the only thing that failed to satisfy my soul.

In junior high, a school friend came to our church to check it out. He came to some of the mid-week youth events for a few weeks. Because I knew him from school, I spent what seemed like hours with him afterward talking about God and religion. He asked me a lot of sincere questions. Neither my answers or the LDS Church could provide what He was searching for. Now, I understand that what he was seeking was a real, living relationship with God through Jesus Christ—something (someone) I didn’t know how to help him find or even point toward. I think he was having problems at home with a dysfunctional family. After a time, he stopped coming to our youth activities. It wasn’t long before I didn’t see him at school either. As it turned out, another young friend had checked out. He fatally shot himself in the head.

This time I was distraught. Though I had a realistic dream in which he told me he didn’t mean it, and that if he could have a do-over he wouldn’t kill himself, this didn’t help me feel less conflicted. I felt like if I could have just said the right words, he might still be alive. It made me think long and deep and hard about what my faith had to offer. I sensed something was missing in my own faith.

It was true. Something, or rather Someone, was missing. But I wouldn’t figure out Who for a while still. I just knew that nothing I had shared had made the real difference my friend needed. Afterward, everything, especially the parties my school friends invited me to—parties I had previously so much wanted to be invited to—seemed intolerably superficial. After this, I began to get serious about exploring spiritual realities.

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”

says the Teacher.

“Utterly meaningless!

Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)


[1] “Boulder wind info,” NOAA, Physical Sciences Laboratory, accessed 3/15/2023, [2] See the blog, “About Standards,” Oct. 14, 2022:


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