Unwilling Train Travel


attribution, Roger Kidd  courtesy Wikimedia Commons


The train sped West with me sitting on a well-indented wicker bench. I was leaving Maine for a Southern California college that had awarded me a grant for my Junior year.

My restless parents couldn’t decide where to retire. Pre-World War II, we led an expatriate life as my stepfather’s Standard Oil career took him to Shanghai, Manila, Honolulu, Mumbai, and Java. During the war years we lived in New York City.

When Mao Tse-Tung ended Western commerce in China, Dad retired to Maine, the home of his youth. Mother, originally from Canada, soon agreed with him that Maine was too cold. They decided that I should lead the family to sunny California.

I was grateful for the scholarship, but since I’d been to three high schools, I had no desire to transfer to a second college 3000 miles from home.

The railroad rocked through the boring Texas landscape. Along with my back, my tooth ached. my jaw began to swell. I felt another impacted wisdom tooth making an appearance like the one I’d had pulled two months earlier. But I still had another two nights to go in this well-worn wicker seat before I could see a dentist.

With nowhere to go, I turned to my rangy seat companion. Lean and sunbaked, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, he looked the epitome of a real Texan. Exasperated, I said, “There’s nothing to see here in Texas. There isn’t even a single tree!”

He placed his cowboy boot on the foot rail and looked out the window. He brushed an imaginary speck off his perfectly tailored jeans before he turned to me. “Waall, I went back East to Arkansas once,” he drawled pleasantly. “But I couldn’t see nuthin fur all the durn trees around.”

What spells home to you?

4 responses

  1. Ohhh, Paula, this is so funny yet sad. The young girl in pain and anxious about where she’s going, alone and sad on this ohsolong train trip. But you write so I can see that Texan sitting next to that young girl as vividly as if he’s sitting here next to me. What a character! What a scene!
    Did you need to have that tooth removed? I want to hear more about ‘the after.’ 🙂

    • I don’t recall any further conversation with the Texan. He was much too attractive — also a gentleman. He probably got off the train. Upon arrival, the college whisked me to a dentist and then a night at the infirmary. My parents never did find a place that suited them, a frequent problem for expats who spend much of their lives abroad.

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