When I was growing up, we lived on a little 100-odd acre farm out Arkansas 43, about 15 miles southwest of Harrison. We were at the end of our bus route, so we were usually the first ones on, last ones off. Sometimes Mom would pick us up at the last stop before the bus started up and down the dirt backroads of that part of the county, and it would cut as much as an hour off our trip.
When she didn't, though, we spent a few hours a day riding the bus with the other kids from the Hilltop area. Bus drivers have, since the beginning of time, been struggling to keep heathens from tearing apart their buses and the other bus riders. Our bus driver was only marginally successful in that pursuit, the classic demonstration of which fact was the time Jim spotted the oldest boy on the bus urinating out one of the windows and slammed on the brakes, causing Jimmy to fall into the seat in front of him...still urinating...all over the poor girl occupying that seat. Hysterical. Nasty.
So yeah, there were some rough characters on that bus route, and I was both a geek and a smartass. I couldn't keep my mouth shut, and I was not a terribly impressive physical specimen. I wasn't a typical redneck kid, and we weren't a typical Gaither Mountain family. In other words, I was bully fodder, both at school and on the bus.
[As an aside, for those who'd play Statler and Waldorf: Some things never change. I'm still a geek and a smartass, often can't keep my mouth shut, and am not a terribly impressive physical specimen. I do, however, have a hella beard now. Suck it.]
On those long bus rides home in the afternoons, I learned to whistle, say "uncle", spell "uncle", spell "uncle" backwards ... all while boys older, meaner and stronger twisted one or both of my nipples between thumb and forefinger. I learned how to put mind over matter long before Keanu Reeves explored The Matrix.
One day, one of those boys brought a loaded Saturday Night Special .22 revolver on the bus with him. How the bus driver didn't notice him waving this thing around, showing his buddies, pushing it into the bosom of the same poor young lady who'd been urinated upon a few years earlier, dry-firing it, her crying... I'll never know.
I got home — amazed that he didn't get caught — and was just kind of spilling my guts about my day (again: some things never change). Mom heard the word "gun" and flipped.
Now, I knew that my life was going to get a whole lot worse if this guy got in trouble. I begged my parents not to say anything to the school authorities. "We'll make sure you don't get involved. There's no reason he should know it was because of you that he's in trouble."
Our vice principal brought this young man into his office the next day to expel him and told him my parents had called. I know this because the young man stopped to have a little chat with me on his way out of the school that morning. "[unprintable threats]," he said.
The next several months of my life were hell, since his buddies more than filled in for him during his sabbatical. I was furious with my parents, and I hated the vice principal for selling me out. I can still remember being terrified, not wanting to ride the bus the first day of school the next year, knowing he'd be back, looking for revenge.
What my parents may not have expected, and what I couldn't possibly have foreseen in my adolescent angst, were the enduring effects this trial by fire would have on my adult life. Early in my life, I learned to steel myself against physical and psychological abuse at the hands of a "crooked and perverse generation". I took some bittersweet solace in doing right. It changed me forever and for the better.
Now that I'm grown and have the benefit of both time and distance between me and those horrible middle school and junior high years, I am thankful for the strength the Lord built into me by way of my upbringing and my environment. I hope my kid can develop the same unwavering commitment to doing the right thing, no matter the cost...and I hope I can remember when those trials come into her life that the keeper of the vineyard stresses His vines that they may produce a more flavorful grape, for the production of a more complex wine.