He wore a “Jesus Loves You” button on the front of his denim hat and his daily greeting to me and my sisters was a nod and an occasional “Good morning”.
Mr. Lewis was the man tasked with caring for me and approximately thirty other kids from Cataula. He wielded a power that was granted to him by every parent who allowed their child to climb into the big yellow Blue Bird school bus that he drove to and from Hamilton five days a week.
Most of us who knew and respected him realized that our first class of every school day took place sitting on the dark green vinyl seat of Mr. Lewis’ bus. The subject varied with the behavior of each child on the bus and the actions of the adults who did not like sharing the road with a large yellow obstruction, filled to the gills with spastic cargo aged from 6 years to 18, moving at the posted speed limit, or less.
He taught us how to sit still, speak quietly, share, and how to maintain our balance while he tried to allow an occasional impatient driver pass him in a curve or on a narrow road. His watchful eyes always darting from the road in front of him, the mirrors to his left and right and into the large rear view mirror that gave him the ability to see into faces of the most precious cargo transported in Harris County.
I learned early on that his eyes were not his only well defined sense. While he watched the road and our smiling, crying, and sometimes blank facial expressions, he could also smell cigarette smoke, hear “bad words” being spoken by his immature passengers, and pick up on other “tells” that were being offered up by us. It sometimes seemed as if he could see into our hearts and minds.
He could anticipate a kid changing seats while the bus was in motion and change that juvenile’s plans with a slight head tilt, and those eyes. Mr. Lewis knew if there were issues between two of his kids and he would head off the trouble by requiring the warring parties to share the seat directly behind his driver’s seat.
He waited for me one morning while I ran back to my house to put up a 22 rifle I had carried out to the bus stop in order to put-down a dog that was suffering after being struck by a car, remember this was Harris County, where God, Guts and Grits was our war cry.
Mr. Lewis taught me that a man could be tough when he tossed a disruptive and disrespectful high school kid off our bus one morning and he taught me that a man could be kind when he asked me to give him a quick synopsis of “Where the Red Fern Grows” after my best friend and I had finished reading the book. Tulian Reese and I took turns reading the small paperback to each other while traveling between home and school. Mr. Lewis cared.
While Mr. Elder, Mrs. Palmer, and Mr. Quester did their job of educating me in the classroom, I will never forget that my education started everyday with Mr. Lewis’ class and, many times, the lesson I learned from him was the most important.
Please never forget to thank those driving the busses, cooking the food, and mopping the floors because their impact on the minds of children can be as important as any other fellow educator.