Driving the message home

Frank drove a school bus out west, a little 14-seater.

Hed been driving the bus for some years before I met him. The parents knew he had a drinking problem and had warned him a number of times that theyd have the run taken from him. But they never did.

Everybody liked Frank. He was a little bloke, easy going. Hed had polio as a kid and walked with a bit of a limp. On the odd occasions Id speak to him about his drinking hed always assure me has was going to give it up. And we always forgave him because he was Frank.

A small group of us would enjoy a beer together, play a bit of pool, tell the odd joke and laugh a lot and then go home to our wives and families.

It was common knowledge that Franks marriage wasnt travelling too well and you cant keep that secret in a small country village. It was such a shame because he and his wife had three lovely young kids.

The morning came when Franks hangover caused him to misjudge his line over a cattlegrid on the way to school. It was only a minor accident but a couple of the younger kids were upset. The parents hastily convened a meeting with Frank at the school the following weekend and informed him that they couldnt entrust him with the care of their kids any longer. They acted as any caring parents would. It was a pity they hadnt done it sooner.

Frank died three days later. Hed shot himself.

I left the district not long afterwards. Nineteen years later I returned and visited his graveside. I was surprised to discover that he was only 35 when he took his life. Alone in the cemetery I said an emotional goodbye to a mate. Whatever his failings, he hadnt deserved to die that way.

From time to time I find myself thinking about him. I wonder how different things might have been had any of us acted earlier. I think about his three kids and wonder how they made out without their father. And I wonder whether a small communitys inaction could have ended even more tragically.

Barry Walsh

Lismore


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