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Quilt warms bus driver's heart

Pearlie Johnson knew that she was going to receive something special to remind her of the elementary school children she takes to and from school, but she had no idea that the gift would be so remarkable. This week, Sue Holley and Lois Burge gave Mrs. Johnson a handmade quilt fashioned with 52 squares, each representing a child who rides her bus to Moton Elementary School.

Holley and Mrs. Burge both have grandchildren who ride Mrs. Johnson's bus. The women meet every morning and every afternoon at Alice Street and Blair Avenue, waiting for Mrs. Johnson to turn the corner.

Mrs. Johnson, a bus driver for six years, was stunned when the women gave her the quilt.

"I could have just screamed," she said. "I was tickled to death, and I was on a high all day. I'm still on a high."

The idea to give her a gift started with Mrs. Burge's grandson, Joshua Griffin, 9, who rides the bus. The children all love Mrs. Johnson, and they wanted to do something nice for her, Mrs. Burge said.

Joshua was watching her make a quilt when he suggested that she do the same for Mrs. Johnson. The two grandmothers discussed the idea, and created the quilt a little more than a month ago.

Holley, 49, whose granddaughter, Jodi Ann Keelin, 6, rides the bus, said that after the quilt idea came up, there was no doubt that it would be the present for Mrs. Johnson, even though the school year was nearly over.

They decided they wanted to depict each of the children. The women bought a stack of coloring books and out of each selected pictures that would remind Mrs. Johnson of each child. One little boy who rides the bus tends to oversleep so the panel representing him shows a child napping.

Holley and Mrs. Burge traced coloring-Quiltbook pictures onto each square. Then Mrs. Burge quilted the front and back of each panel before sewing together the squares, making every stitch by hand. Each panel has the child's name on it.

The women had asked Mrs. Johnson to give them a list with the names of each child, including the color of each youngster's hair and eyes. Mrs. Johnson was busy and didn't make the list as quickly as the two women needed it. They prodded her, and the bus driver sat down and instantly drew up a list of 52 names, complete with hair and eye colors.

"Sure, I know the colors of their eyes," she said. "I love 'em all."

Mrs. Johnson does have some "mischievers." But when they act mean to the other children she makes them "beg their pardons."

She said she pays close attention to each child as he gets on the bus in the morning. She asks them how they are. If a child appears to be upset or tired, Mrs. Johnson lets them know that she cares how they feel.

Her caring attitude is what makes the children love her, said Mrs. Burge, whom the children call "Aunt Lois." The youngsters call Holley "Granny Sue."

"She is really good with the kids," Mrs. Burge said. "She'll see that a kid has got the sniffles or a sunburn, and she'll ask how they are. A kid with the sniffles, she will hand them a Kleenex. A kid with a sunburn, like my grandson had, she'll ask how they got the sunburn. She takes the time to ask the kids how they're feeling. She takes the time to find out."