Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Passenger

Every now and then, I scan the folders of my hard drive to see what lingers there. One of the benefits of being a writer, I suppose, is that each piece of writing holds a memory or two that would have otherwise slipped away over time.

Some pieces, like the one that follows, remind me to be thankful for those who reach out to make a difference in the lives of my children.

"The Passenger"
ⓒ 2005

The loss of one person from a small rural community can leave a hole so gaping that every person for miles around feels the wound. So it was in our little town last week.

Tommy was many things to many people, and the magnitude of his life could be seen through the extensive list of his involvements and accomplishments. But the true goodness of Tommy was shown to me through the heart of a little boy.

In his forty-year career of driving a school bus, Tommy had driven hundreds of kids to countless destinations. That makes it all the more remarkable that he would take the time to befriend the little boy who sits all alone at the front of the bus.

In the 30 minutes that the two of them spent together as that bus bumped its way along the gravel road to and from school every weekday, Tommy must have answered thousands of questions. The purpose of every button, latch, and knob in the bus was undoubtedly explained to satisfy the curiosity of a little mind that never stops churning. Reports of these conversations would arise at home.

“Mom, Tommy told me how the clutch in the bus works.”

“Mom, Tommy says that our old bus is better than that highway bus. And he doesn’t like those automatic transmissions.”

“Mom, can we listen to 92.5 on the radio? Tommy says that’s the best station, and it has the best farm news.”

Not only did Tommy unfailingly answer every inquiry, but he made sure that this little mind, so full of the details of how things work, did not forget to arrive home with his jacket, gloves, hat, and backpack each day.

On Wednesdays, the two of them developed their own sign language denoting whether it would be Bible school or a bus ride home at 3:30.

And when it was time for the little boy to descend the stairs of the bus and go home, Tommy would never let him go by without giving him “five.” Occasionally, the straight-faced bus driver would offer the first grader a beer and a chew of tobacco, too, which would elicit a crooked grin, the joy of having a buddy to joke with reflecting in his eyes.

So when it was time for him to descend the stairs and walk past the driver’s seat occupied by someone else, the little boy paused, as if Tommy could somehow reach out to slap his hand one last time. He stared out the window into the distance for a moment, comprehending the loss that transcended the silence, and slowly stepped off the bus, disoriented and heartbroken.

In his very special way, Tommy made a difference in this young life. He could have chosen to simply drive the bus, but instead, he chose to devote himself to his passengers. He was far more than a bus driver. In a world that can be confusing and overwhelming for my little boy, Tommy was an ally, a caretaker, and a rare friend.

With any kind of luck, that little boy who sits all alone in the front of the bus might someday grow up with just a bit of the goodness of Tommy tucked away inside him. For that, I am so grateful.


Jenni said...

Oh! This made me cry! God bless people like Tommy.

Susan Rose said...

Yep. Here I am sniffling at work. And people are lookin' at me.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Just beautiful!


Haf Dozen Reasons....... said...

Sooo sweet.

Jenny said...

Sounds like our bus driver, also named Tommy. Our community did feel it when he passed away. We knew how much he really meant to the school when they had the funeral in the gym on a school day and let the students attend. We knew how much he meant to the students when the seniors that year donated the remainder of their class funds to set up a scholarship in his name.

Ethan, Zach, and Emma's Mom said...

Beautiful. Makes me think of my old bus driver Leo. Wonderful writing!

Plowing and Sowing said...

Awsome story. I love it when everday people invest their lives into everday kids. There are sure no awards or praise from the community, it is just pure love that usually comes from Above.

Plowing and Sowing said...

On your comment on my kids would be there tomorrow. They want to go to Montana and work cows for as long as they could stand it. I told them that it was a little too cold at the present time.

Natalie said...

Yes, God Bless people like Tommy and God Bless little boys and girls in the front seats. 4 years later and re-reading this story, I am so thankful to know that our Father lives on in other people's hearts as well as his familie's. Thank You Erin for remembering our Dad. He loved all of the kids, big ones and little ones. You will forever be in our Hearts Dad. We also cherish the stories and the memories of the little boy in the front seat with our Hero, our Dad.

Anonymous said...

What a touching story.. We need more people like Tommy in this world.. What a an amazing and loving guy he was!


Anonymous said...

Wow. I remember you writing about him Erin. As a part-time bus driver it reminds me of how much of an impact we can have on these kids. Thanks for sharing that. Tommy must've been an awesome guy.

Anonymous said...

that is a great story! I am sure that his memories of Tommy will stay with him through his life.

Sedgwick's said...

Thank-You Erin! I had kept a copy of this story when I read it after Tommy had passed. I have read and re-read it many times. Brings back many good memories of my childhood spent with Wilma and Tommy and their family. What wonderful people. Thank-you again for your tribute and a thank-you to your son for inspiring you to write this.

valerie said...

Oh Erin! Warmed my heart and made me cry the same way it did four years ago. Dad truly loved all the children on the bus over his 40 years, all ages. Yes, the little one boy on the front seat was special. I can still hear dads voice and the laughter as he would share his stories about his bus trips and the love he had for his bus kids. I can't help but think of dad when i hear something about the little boy on the front seat or when i have my visits with your charming little ones. I think, oh gosh, dad would have loved that, but in my heart and with my faith i know he knows. God bless you Erin for keeping the memory of my dad the bus driver and may God be with all the children whose lives have been touched over the 40 years and especially the special one on the front seat. Love to you from all of my heart and family.

Anonymous said...

Brought the knot in my throat again and next tears.... such a great story. Tommy's Wilma was our girls driver and they sure had fun when she drove them... even got Tommy one afternoon when the bus wouldn't start -- here came Tommy and the crew of kids :) Your writing is so beautiful Erin... you can always describe exactly how you're feeling, completely, thoroughly and effortlessly.. I admire that in you (as well as many other things). Keep up the wonderful words...


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