There’s a lovely wall plaque in my living room painted with these words. 

Not that I need a daily reminder to be grateful, thankful and blessed, but it makes my heart and my eyes happy to see it hanging there. Perhaps someone who visits may need that reminder. 

As we approach the week of Thanksgiving, we here in Barrow County have a most specific reason for which to be grateful, thankful and blessed. As you probably have heard by now, one of the Winder-Barrow High School band buses was involved in an accident on Friday night while on the way home from the playoff game.  

This season I only chaperoned a couple of games, but in all my seven previous years of serving, I don’t ever recall any emergencies involving the buses.  We once had a sick student while at Disney, and there was a side trip to a pharmacy while in New Orleans, but nothing serious enough to impact the trips.  I’m sure there have been many situations that felt like emergencies among the social lives of the students, i.e. broken hearts, broken promises, etc., but again, nothing that compromised the trips, or the safety of the students. 

This past Friday night, a couple of young drivers made the bad decision to race onto I-85 from the ramp, and while the details are not clear to me, at some point impact was made with our Bus No. 1, and then the two cars collided with each other. 

I can’t imagine the horror that came over the leaders and chaperones as the realization set in of what had happened. We always review emergency procedures, exits, etc., but you never expect an accident to happen.  

Band students, leaders and parents comprise a very special family. Among these family members are the bus drivers who safely transport us to our away-from-home destinations. Some of them are long-time regulars, known and loved by all, while others jump in from time to time when scheduling requires. I’ve always admired bus drivers. I couldn’t do it. I’d run out of bail money the first month. Band kids can be loud. And rambunctious. But they’re also good kids, and aside from reminding them to keep their bottoms on the seats, feet facing forward, there is hardly ever a problem.  

Everyone loves Ms. Colleen! She has been driving us for years and has a son who plays in the band, which makes her extra-special family! In the waning minutes of Friday night, into Saturday morning, she was also our hero. I’ve never had a flat tire/blowout while driving my own car, but I have seen it happen on the interstate and have seen how quickly a vehicle can lose control, becoming a dangerous moving object to other cars on the road. Not to mention the debris left behind. 

Ms. Colleen was the driver of the bus involved and was able (I imagine with the help of a divine hand) to bring the bus safely to a stop without further incident. I’m sure it was a bumpy few seconds on board, but aside from being a bit shook up and some soreness the next day, there were no apparent injuries to anyone. We are so very grateful.  

For the moms and dads at home, receiving texts and phone calls from their students, it was a very long wait until they got their babies back home again! I was texting with my granddaughter, who was on a different bus, but saw the whole thing “with my eyes,” as she texted me in uppercase. 

Many thanks to Ms. Michelle, who kept everyone informed with “official” texts and posts. Thanks to the Gwinnett law enforcement guys who, it sounds like, circled the wagons with their vehicles and kept our kids safe from further incident.  

Yes, we are so grateful, thankful and blessed. Grateful for an excellent staff and parents who kept the kids calm and safe. Thankful that there were no injuries. And blessed to have the best bus drivers in the history of forever, especially Ms. Colleen.  

All the right things fell together for a happy ending for us. There were other players involved in the equation, including the transportation folks who facilitated sending a rescue bus to retrieve the kids from Bus 1 and get them safely home. The situation could have ended so much differently, and all the what-ifs and horrible thoughts are so unnerving. As many parents said, they hugged their babies just a little tighter when they finally got back home. 

And I’m betting Ms. Colleen got some extra hugs, too! 

Hope you will hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight and be especially mindful of your blessings this coming week, and every day.  

Cathy Watkins Bennett is a Barrow County native and a graduate of Winder-Barrow High School. Send comments about this column to bencath@aol.com.

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