(The first part of this story is "How did your crops do this year?") Union Station. After a bite to eat and reading a few newspapers, Dad and I zig-zagged down an escalator and through a crowded hallway to our boarding lounge. I led the way with an occasional glance to make sure Dad was still with me. I turned the last corner, looked behind me, and he wasn't there. A silly jab of panic as if I had lost my 2-year-old swept over me. I backtracked 20 yards to find him perched against a wall with that tight-lipped tough stoic look awash on his face. The look I see in my bathroom mirror every morning before I take a shower. Dad thought I was checking things out, and he didn't want to get wound up in the coil of people who were waiting for another train. Confirming that our lounge was pretty empty, I coaxed him to follow me again. With over an hour before we could board the Amtrak train that would take us to Boston, we garnered three seats in the lounge.
Eight small children were taking advantage of the wide open space before the 23-hour train ride. Three moms, no dads, sat waiting. Dreading? The tolerance for what was OK was uncertain between the moms at first. Then one mom loudly pulled the oldest boy, probably around 7 years old, for some antic. “Go look at that wall! And don’t look at me!” A bit later, a train station employee brought back a 3-year-old little girl from down the hall out of another mom’s sight, saying something to the effect that it wasn't safe – for other passengers or the little girl.
Four well-dressed 60- to 70- ish-year-old women came in chatting loudly. From their bewildered looks, they weren’t sure if they were in the right lounge. The briskness of their language and accent left me labeling them from Eastern Europe. A family of Mennonites – mom, dad, and three older girls – sat in a corner of the lounge. The calico dresses, pinafores, and squared, starched white bonnets identified them as Mennonites, not Amish. The Amish women who live near Mom and Dad wear solid colors and softer, non-angular white bonnets.
A young white woman with a ukulele sticking out of her backpack sat on the floor, casually drinking a can of beer. A young black man with dreads, a quiet voice, and an unidentified accent approached her and her ukulele. Within seconds of the ukulele coming out, she was leading a mini-music session with eight kids clustered around her, each wanting a turn with this exotic instrument. They argued over turns. “Just make sure everyone gets a turn. Play a little bit then pass it around. Share.” Her voice was soft and idealistic. Had this modern-day young hippie seen three of the boys practice punching one another, per Mom’s direction? These boys practice survival more than do sharing. Yet, the ukulele jerkily made its way around the circle of kids.
On his own, a middle-aged Amish man, looking more conservative than the Mennonite father, entered the lounge. A 400-pound man came into the lounge and sat down. People cleared around him. His clothing didn't cover his stomach and the body odor would surely get worse during a 23-hour train ride.
The rest of the cast filtered in quietly, nearly unnoticed. Many carried pillows and blankets. Couples of all ages. Young men traveling together. Some pierced and tatooed. And some not. Young women traveling together. All looking at their personal devices more than at one another. Older women traveling in pairs, already looking tired.
Just before boarding call, three young nuns in full habit whooshed into the lounge. Their round plain faces were framed by a layer of tight white starched material then loose black fabric flowing over the strict white. With their presence, we had all been blessed.
This tiny microcosm of humanity, including a farmer and his daughter, crowded the boarding gate facing that one thing we all had in common at this moment: a long train ride east out of Union Station.
(Our journey continues in Overnight on the Train...)