The church bus smelled just like I remembered — a mixture of diesel fuel, vinyl seats and a scent I could never quite identify, even as a child. As I took my seat, I inhaled deeply. Even in North Carolina, this church bus was no different than the ones parked back home in West Virginia at my dad’s church. I settled into the seat, listening to the rumble of the engine and the sound of the brakes. My high heels seemed out of place; I don’t ever remember riding heels on a church bus. Of course, I wasn’t a 30-something-year-old woman back in those days. I was just a child, a tag-a-long with my dad. When I came to close to bouncing out of my seat — the bus hit a hole in the road — I felt like I was 7 years old again, fingers clutched white on the edge of the seat. Some things never change, including my dad’s passion for bumpy church buses in southern West Virginia. For more than 30 years, he has been the director of Liberty Baptist Church’s bus ministry. He has driven buses all across southern West Virginia, bringing children and even adults to church. Last weekend, I got to see that passion on a different level. A few months ago, I arranged for my dad to visit one of the leading bus ministries in the U.S. Gospel Light Baptist Church in Walkertown, N.C., picks up 1,400 riders every Sunday. The church also holds a bus conferences every March.
We decided to drive down Friday night as soon I left the office. I packed my laptop, hoping to catch up on some things and put together a new playlist for my iPod. I knew I would have some downtime while my dad went out on bus visitation on Saturday. The church graciously allowed us to stay on the campus instead of reserving a hotel room in the area. I thought this was a great idea because my dad would be close to the action — the buses, I mean. I second guessed my decision when I saw the TV in the room. Snowflakes danced on the screen. The knob twisted, with loud clicks. The final touch? Aluminum foil on a set of rabbit ears. I felt a pang of sadness. I wasn’t worried about missing my favorite shows, but I would miss some quality basketball on Saturday evening. I glanced at my laptop with a sinking feeling. I didn’t even have to guess about the wifi situation. In the span of a few hours, I went from an active newsroom to the dark ages. I should have been lost without my usual — full confession: I had my phone and Kindle — technology companions.
Without much entertainment, I took my dad shopping at the mall. He carried my bags and counted the number of shoes I bought for work. We had dinner. And we talked about the buses, the church and everything else in between. The excitement on his face — he spent the morning visiting dozen of children in the NC area — held my attention better than any ball game. Sunday morning, I rode the church bus for the first time in probably 10 years. We started at 8 a.m., and didn’t pull into the church parking lot until 11 a.m. My clothes were wrinkled from a 4-year-old year named Sydney. She played with my hair, wiggled in my lap and played with my necklace. We both bounced in the seat when the bus hit a bump in the road. My dad smiled and took my picture. I don’t think the smile left his face the entire day. Perhaps he was happy his daughter was on a church bus again. Or maybe he was excited to be the student instead of the teacher for once.
When I was younger, I never questioned my dad’s passion for the bus ministry. It was normal to ride the bus on Sunday, have another bus in the driveway and spend Saturday afternoon repairing a van or third bus. It was our way of life. But there is something defining about being an adult and seeing excitement on the face of a parent. I missed that expression as a child. I didn’t see it or know what it meant until now. We forget that our parents have passions in life too. Yes, they are committed to family, but they still have a life outside of the home. I am proud my dad never gave up his passion, even when the demands of fatherhood probably overwhelmed him at times. Now I know why I was the tag-a-long all those years. There was a lesson to be learned and it is not how many wheels are on the bus.
Jamie Parsell is the lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com.