August 1981, I was 12 years old, going into the 7th grade. I was a nervous wreck. I was going to a new school, a school where I did not know ONE SINGLE PERSON. Let me repeat that…I DID NOT KNOW ONE SINGLE PERSON at the school I would be attending. Up until this point I attended private schools. In June of 1981, I moved back to DC from Michigan where I attended Brookside, the Lower School of The Cranbrook Schools and then the University Liggett Middle School. My Mom was appointed and confirmed to the new presidential administration and my parents thought that this was a good time to balance me out. By 12 years old, I had read Beowulf, the Iliad and the Odyssey, was a straight A student, but had never set foot on public transportation. I wasn’t comfortable in certain surroundings, i.e. Urban areas, and I was ridiculously attached to my parents. I didn’t have an ounce of street smarts and my Dad thought that my common sense was lacking…LOL.
I was a WRECK. I was NERVOUS. I was ANXIOUS. I did not want to go to public school. My Mom was deep into her new position, so my Dad was my change maker. I would be attending Alice Deal Junior High School which was all the way across town from our house. And, to make me even more nervous, my parents came up with the grand plan of having me CATCH THE BUS to school. The METRO Bus. The PUBLIC bus. By myself!!! ALONE. Lord!!! Just writing this brings up so many emotions.
My Daddy knew what he had, so he had a plan. First, he got a copy of the bus schedule and studied it. I would be taking the 36 Friendship Heights bus from a bus stop located about ¼ mile from our house all the way to the Tenley Circle bus stop. It was about an hour bus ride during morning rush hour. One bus. I wouldn’t have to transfer. When I got off at Tenley Circle, I would have to walk down Nebraska Avenue about a ¼ mile to Alice Deal Junior High. Easy. Yeah right!!!
Back then, school started after Labor Day. So, the week before was my training. My Daddy had a three-day plan. Day one, he drove me along the bus route so that I could get landmarks. This was when the bus would drive directly in front of the White House. There was a White House bus stop. He made it an adventure. I had a notebook and wrote down all the landmarks that he pointed out. Potomac Avenue, the Capitol, the Air and Space Museum, the White House, Foggy Bottom, Uno Pizza in Georgetown and so on. He CONSTANTLY reassured me that I would do GREAT!!! I was HIS daughter, and I would get this. No problem. He knew I could do it.
Day 2, we rode the bus. He got me up early and we walked up our street to the bus stop. We waited, together, at the bus stop. He instructed me to be careful and always pay attention to my surroundings. The 36-bus approached, and he showed me how to put the money in the coin slot and told me to always sit as close to the driver as I could. We rode the bus all the way to the Tenley Circle bus stop, got off and walked down Nebraska Avenue to the school. We talked, while he constantly pointed out things for me to be aware of. Again, making it seem as if this would be a breeze for me. That I would have no problems. I would do GREAT!! When we got to the school, we turned around and did the reverse. He showed me what I needed to do to get back home. It was the same number bus, 36, but had a different end destination, Hillcrest. We walked back up Nebraska Avenue, crossed Wisconsin Avenue to the bus stop where I would wait for the 36 Hillcrest to go back home. To me…this was a lot!! I didn’t feel GREAT??
Day 3, he drove the route again. All the while speaking confidently that I would be GREAT!! Having me point out the landmarks and talking about how exciting school would be.
Labor Day weekend came and went. I honestly thought that maybe, some way, I wouldn’t have to catch the bus and that my Daddy would see my fear and appease me and drive me to school. Nope…the first day of school came. It was the Wednesday after Labor Day. Over the years I wondered why not Tuesday? But, oh well, it would be a short first week. My Daddy woke me up at the crack of dawn. My parents got dressed for work and I was moving like molasses getting dressed for my new school. My Mom laid out a brand-new outfit for me to wear. I remember it so clearly. It was a charcoal grey pants set. Blazer, pants and a light grey blouse and burgundy penny loafers. I had a red Mandarina Duck book bag that my Mom bought for me in Italy. I was WAAAAAY OVERDRESSED!!!! WAY WAY WAYYY OVERDRESSED!!!
My Daddy walked me up the street, but he did not go to the bus stop with me. He watched me cross the street to the bus stop. OMG!! I was petrified. There was another girl at the stop, but I was FOCUSED. The bus approached. I got on. I put the coins in the slot and sat DIRECTLY BEHIND the bus driver. My Dad was across the street, arms crossed, and watched me until the bus drove off. I knew this because I stared out the window looking at him. I was frozen in my seat. Paying attention to everything. Looking for the landmarks. I made it!! Tenley Circle approached and I got off. I noticed that the same girl that got on the bus when I got on, also got off the bus. Still, I was FOCUSED. I walked down Nebraska Avenue. I made it!!!!! Whew. Now school time. There were like a million kids at this school. OMG!!! Between the 7th, 8th and 9th grade students, I felt like I was in a small city. All day long, all I could think of was what to do to get home. That was the longest day ever.
3:00 came. School was over!!! Now, I had to do the reverse. Lord!!! I had my red book bag and headed out the door. Alone. Focused. I was attempting GREATNESS!
I heard him before I saw him. My Daddy had a Cadillac Eldorado with a diesel engine. I heard that diesel engine and my heart skipped a beat. I heard a car honk and honk again, and then I saw him! My Daddy was parked outside the side door entrance, where I came out. He had on sunglasses and the biggest smile. I didn’t play it cool at all. I RAN to the car and got in as fast as I could!!! I was so happy!! I promptly said, “I don’t wanna go back!!” LOL. He chuckled and then asked me “Who is GREAT?” I answered “ME!”
The next day came, same thing. He walked me to the bus stop. I crossed the street. I got on the bus. He picked me up. The day after that. Different. He walked me to the bus stop. I crossed the street. I rode the bus home. But I was ok. I made a new friend, Kim Milbourne. She and I got on at the same bus stop. Kim knew people and was a talker!!! I was good.
Years later, my folks and I were doing what we do, sitting around reminiscing. The time of me starting public school came up and we talked about Daddy’s bus tutorial. I casually asked if he was as nervous as I was, thinking that he would say No. Well, he was. He chimed in saying “…everything went through my mind. What if you had to use the bathroom? What if you fell asleep? What if the bus broke down? What if someone bothered you?” He then told me something that I never knew. After he walked me to the bus stop, he would go home, eat something quick and then drive to Tenley Circle and wait for me to get off the bus. He parked on a street off Nebraska Avenue where he could see the folks get off the bus. Remember…he knew the route, had the schedule, which detailed the bus drop off times. For my first week of school, the short Wednesday, Thursday & Friday week, my Daddy watched me get off the bus and I never knew he was there. My Mom chimed in about how he hoped that he had instilled in me self-confidence. He wanted his baby girl to grow and become more independent. He wanted me to be self-confident, assured and know that I could do anything. My Mom went on to say, that my anxiousness didn’t sit right with him. He didn’t like the fear that I was expressing. He wanted me to overcome that.
I miss my Daddy daily. But the thing I miss most is his time. My Daddy gave his time. He was present. Always. Not just with me and my Mom, but with his friends and family. People could depend on Melvin Ford. I miss my time with my Daddy. It is September, again. The bus is now a car. It is in my car where I have silent moments where I feel his presence. I feel his spirit. Thankfully, through the numerous videos that I have of him, I can still hear his voice. Between you and me, I haven’t cut off his cell phone and still call it just to hear his voicemail greeting. I am thankful that I had my Daddy, present, in my life for 52 years! Truly a blessing.
I know that my Daddy gave me all that I need to move forward. He studied me, guided me, walked with me, taught me, picked me up, and watched me…even when I didn’t know he was there. I know that he is watching me now. I am doing GREAT!!
By the way, in writing this, I decided to see what the date was for the Wednesday after Labor Day in 1981. It was September 9.
Continue resting Daddy. I love you. Always.
Melvin W. Ford
December 15, 1937 – September 9, 2021