Yesterday afternoon I boarded a train in Ann Arbor, heading to Kalamazoo, Michigan. There it was! The old feeling of excitement and anticipation! Yes- the whole interior of trains-as well as exterior has changed.
Many of the old services are no longer there, while new ones have been added. Yet, still- I feel as I did as a little girl, full of excitement and anticipation!
Having grown up with a railroad engineer for a step-father, trains were the preferred mode of transportation for any long distance destination! Even though I suffered from motion sickness as a child, I LOVED riding by rail! (I learned to chew on soda crackers BEFORE I started feeling ill.)
We would get up in the middle of the night to catch a train from Clarion, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska- where my grandmother lived. Each holiday meant a train ride!
I remember standing on the platform, watching the trains headlight approach down the track. There's a vibration under your feet. Then the train whistle blows as it approaches the station. Then the smell of diesel fuel and hot brakes all hit at the same time.
The conductor would step down and place a step stool at the base of the steps, calling out the destinations and yelling "All A-board!" I would think to myself how handsome they were in their uniform and pocket watch. ( I was a sucker for a man in uniform even then!) Ha!
When I was just a little thing I'd have to take a BIG step to go from the step stool to the train stairs, and often was lifted up by the conductor. I remember loosing a shoe once when I was lifted up, and sobbed because I was so embarrassed. The conductor gently placed my shoe back on and tipped his hat, as if to say it was alright. How strange to remember these things. I was probably three or four years old!
Once we started out, the clank and rattle of the wheels against the tracks would sort of lull me into a half sleep, where I would stay until the first light of dawn would show on the horizon. Then my nose would press against the window- anxious to "see it all"- not wanting to miss out on one detail of the sunrise or landscape.
I never tired of the colors of dawn. It was different with each season, of course. But I most loved the crimson mornings- that deep magenta fading to a rich red pink, then fading to a golden pink, and finally to a gold and blue sky.
The landscape would be black shadows against the first crimson color. Then the landscape became grey- then color would appear. In the winter the evergreens started to turn shades of green against the snow- glowing a bit in the early dawn as if being kissed by the sunlight- a fleeting kiss just before the sky would yield light to the rest of the world. I always felt God gave evergreens the first morning kiss in the winter- to encourage them to endure the cold and survive. Interesting, the way a child's mind works.
One of my favorite things was the vendors that would board at some of the stations we stopped at. I'll never forget my folks buying hot scrambled egg sandwiches and coffee for us. Those sandwiches were steaming and delicious! I think they must have been made right before the train arrived at their station! The coffee was always a bit strong- but with a bit of milk in it, it tasted wonderful! The train was always a bit chilly in the winter time, and hot food was a welcome sight!
And then there was the arrival! The anticipation! We had one last stop before we arrived in Omaha, and that was across the river, in Counsil Bluffs, Iowa! There we would sit for a full hour, waiting for an engine switch! By now I was ready to jump off the train and swim across the river! (Perhaps it was the coffee's fault? ) I'd try to be patient, burning off some of my energy by walking up and down the isles. All at once there would be a clunking sound and a jolt! Ah ha! We were coupled to the new engine and ready to go! I'm not sure, but I think it only took about 30 minutes to go from Counsil Bluffs to Omaha! Then the screeching halt, and we were there! The conductor was calling out "Omaha! Omaha!"
We'd gather our belongings and head toward the door. The station was so big- much bigger than Clarion, Iowa- that was for sure! I remember it being beautiful- but can't pull up the memory of details.
Of course there were other trips and other memories. But the Omaha destination trips were the most taken, and the most remembered.
Now I sit in the "Snack Car", sipping coffee. There are no hot scrambled egg sandwiches. Plastic wrapped breakfast rolls have replaced those. And the coffee is about the same, though I now drink it black. But the rattle and clank of the wheels still sing to me. And as I search the landscape- not wanting to miss out on a single detail, the memory of my "little girl" self is there too, full of excitement for the ride on the rails-and anticipation for the adventure ahead!
Life is truly an adventure! And some memories we carry- enhancing the new with the old! As surely as I sit here now- I know that as I stand at the station platform, awaiting my train for my return, I will see the train approaching, feel the vibration under my feet, hear the train whistle blow, and again inwardly leap with joy to once again be one with the rails!