We left the train station very early in the morning for an across the country adventure. Me, mom, dad, and my brother. I was five. I never felt like we were poor when I was growing up. In fact, I’m sure we weren’t, but we certainly weren’t rich. I say this because we apparently couldn’t afford sleeping cars. As a parent, I can’t imagine traveling coach with a five and nine-year old on a train for four nights and five days, but that’s exactly what my parents did and the memory of that trip has never left me.
We were bound for Wisconsin to see my mother’s side of the family. It’s interesting that this was the only time we made the trip by train, though we visited almost every year thereafter by car from California. Perhaps the memory of the train trip isn’t quite the same for them as for me. Perhaps they wondered what they were thinking.
I’m pretty sure I was an angel on that train trip because the only time I remember crying was when my dad and brother got off at one of the many stops and they weren’t back in their seats when the train departed. I remember screaming, “Daddy!” No amount of reassuring from my mother that they were on the train would convince me otherwise until I saw my dad walk through the door of our car. I was a nervous kid to begin with. I remember not wanting them to get off. I remember being afraid the train would leave without them.
We once lost my father and brother in San Francisco. It was just one of those misunderstandings, I guess. My mom and I would look in this store while my dad and brother looked in that store and we would meet somewhere after. An hour or so later that seemed like an eternity, holding the hand of my very pissed off mother and running to keep up with her, we rounded a corner and found them sitting at a picnic table eating hamburgers outside of a food truck.
But back to the train. I remember moving around the car a lot because not every seat was taken and shyly sitting next to a girl we called Oriental back then. She was probably almost a teenager. She seemed so grown up to me and so pretty with her long black hair. She had a large selection of paint-by-numbers sets and she shared a few with me. We sat for hours painting. I asked her why her mountains were purple and she said, “For purple mountains majesties.”
The restaurant cars were the best. I couldn’t figure out how they kept changing. One day the benches would have blue checked fabric, the next they would be red, and then they would go back to blue. I loved the French dip sandwiches the best. I learned how to say “au jus” on that trip.
It was winter and it was dark when we arrived in Wisconsin. We were there for Christmas and the ground was covered in snow. Oh! That’s the reason we took a train. It was the only time we visited in winter.