It was the middle nowhere as far as I was concerned. For sure, it was the middle of the night. Two o'clock in the morning to be exact. And I was a bus on my way to Kansas City from Portland sitting in front of the Greyhound station in beautiful downtown Mountain Home, Idaho.
As migrant farm workers, cowboys, airmen and moms with screaming kids began boarding the bus, I looked around and noticed there were very few empty seats left. The one beside me was sure to be taken, and I was worried. I'm a big guy and like my space, don't you know?
With only two seats left on the bus, a six-foot eight-inch cowboy who must have weighed -- and I am not making this up -- upwards of 400 pounds stopped in the aisle alongside me. He eyed the seat beside me ... and then looked at me ... and then at the seat ... and then back at me. I whispered a prayer of thanks as he shrugged his big square shoulders, grunted, adjusted his hat, and walked on down the aisle.
The last person to board the bus was a young lady bundled against the cold night winds of the high desert under several scarves and a heavy coat. I guessed her to be in her mid-twenties. She slowly and quietly placed her things on the overhead rack and sat down in the seat next to me.
I was very tired, having started this marathon bus ride some eight hours earlier, so I wadded up my jacket a little tighter, tucked it behind my head as a pillow, and closed my eyes in an effort to avoid any conversation.
As the bus rolled out of the station I heard a soft, sad voice ask - "What's your name?" After checking through half-closed eye-lids to see who she was talking to, I said "Bob."
"Where ya goin."
"I'm a minister and I'm on my way to Missouri to preach some revival services," I said. "And you?"
That's all it took. The floodgates opened.
Her name was Esther. She lived in Salt Lake City with her parents and had been visiting a close friend who lived on the Mountain Home Air Force Base. She had a younger brother who was spoiled rotten because her parents loved him more than they loved her. She was a waitress at a place "kind of like a Denny's" and she made pretty good money for that kind of work. Her manager kept part of her tips, though, and she confessed she didn't really think it was all that fair. I allowed as to how it didn't seem fair to me either.
She told me she had been married once and that her husband had been a "creep" -- even if he did "make pretty babies."
Pointing to the gold ring on my left hand, she asked if I was married.
If I had any kids?
How old were they and what were their names?
I told her. She almost listened.
Then she got noticeably quiet. I asked if she was feeling ill. She said she was fine, just a little homesick for her kids. Glancing at my watch, I told her we'd be in Salt Lake City in a few hours and she would be back with her kids and that would help her feel much better.
That's when she explained that she had been a drug addict and had lost her two young children to the courts. She said she was no longer involved in the drug scene, but she sure did miss her kids. She pulled out some pictures. They were great looking kids. A boy and a girl.
Then we just sat and quietly and watched the late night landscape of southeastern Idaho and northern Utah roll past ... all the way to Salt Lake City.
And her silent tears spoke louder than her words.