This late August day….

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This late August Day —

            together on the same branch,

                        dead leaves and live ones.

I had another blog prepared for this week’s post, but yesterday morning I came across this haiku. It’s in a book called Sweeping Changes, by Gary Thorp. And instead of going on and on with my thoughts, my interpretation of these lovely words, I thought I’d just leave it to you. Take a minute, or maybe five, and ponder. And I’d love it if you’d leave your thoughts.

The end of August – such a time for contemplation.

Always a Plaid Dress for Back-to-School

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These last August weeks, cool early mornings on the sunporch. My mind wanders back to Rock Springs, the house where I grew up. August meant that school would soon start, something I always looked forward to. In August, I started counting the days; in August the issues of Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal arrived, always with a cover of a school girl in a dark plaid dress (or so it seemed to me). It was then that I told my mother that I was ready to shop. She was always ready.

We headed to Hochschild Kohn’s, Edmonson Village, where she knew the buyer for children’s clothes. I would pick out one dress, plaid. She chose more, many more, more than I wanted. (I was an “under-purchaser” even then.) She thought that it would make me happy. It didn’t, and I acted like a brat.

It was only when I was too old for back-to-school plaid dresses, too old for back-to-school, that I realized that, when she was a child, she had always longed for a closet packed with school clothes, a different outfit for every day.  She wanted to give that to me, who didn’t want it, who didn’t appreciate it, and who would never have quite as large a wardrobe as I needed.

I’m sorry that I wasn’t grateful,more appreciative. I’m sorry that it took me so long to understand that what she was giving me meant more than clothes, more than a full closet, and I wonder what I have given to my child that, in the end, is really about me.

You Can’t Go Home Again, but if you do…..

oak_park_mapThomas Wolfe is right. You can’t go home again. But just in case you do, be sure to take a map.

Our train trip included a return visit to Chicago where we had lived for ten years. We stayed in Oak Park. I knew that town and loved it, though Ernest Hemmingway described it as a town of “wide lawns and narrow minds.” (Well, Mr. Hemmingway, I do think that you are wrong).

And now we were visitors. But I was heartened when someone came up to me and asked for directions. Aha, years living in the sweet climate of North Carolina had not softened me. Here someone took me for a native!  And directions I gave; how to get to the Lake Street el, not too difficult a task since both my questioner and I could hear the rumble of the local. I sent him on his way, and smiled as I found yet another outdoor café where I could sit, drink coffee, and delight that Oak Park, and, indeed, Chicago are now even better than when we lived here. Downtown Chicago, where people still make eye contact, still smile. Nice to remember that about the Midwest.

When I learned that our hotel had no laundry facilities, I blithely inquired the location of the nearest laundromat. “Oh, just a few blocks away, a five minute walk,” the clerk said, and gave me the address. I planned my early morning jaunt, even skipped my requisite coffee thinking that I’d take it while I waited for my laundry to dry. With my green print Vera Bradley tote slung over my shoulder, I happily headed out, taking Harlem Avenue so that I could experience the early morning traffic and the aroma of diesel from the few buses that hadn’t been converted.

I remained upbeat after ten minutes because, I thought, well, his five minutes and my five minutes may not be the same. When I crossed Chicago Avenue I began to feel a bit hesitant. When I finally looked at my watch. I saw that I had been walking for 55 minutes. I was feeling much-less-than-a-native when I stopped someone to ask how far it was to Madison.

“Oh, honey, you’re a long way off.”

“I’m walking the wrong way, aren’t I.”

She nodded and put her hand on my shoulder. I laughed. “You know, I really should have brought my map.” She just shook her head.

I turned around, faced south, headed, finally, in the right direction. It started to rain, my shoes gave me blisters, but when I finally reached the laundromat, it felt like home.  But for all my other visits, I did take a map.

Trains, and then some more trains….

not quite our train

There are several train trips in Another Sunday;  the first one takes place in 1902. The couple leaves from Camden Station in Baltimore, a sleeping car on the B&O. I was lucky enough to see one of these cars when I visited the B&O Train Museum last year. Very plush, just the thing for a honeymoon, I’d say.

If we fast-forward 113 years, one might think that train travel would be even more luxurious. Well, only one who had not been in the United States, ever. Amtrak, our national passenger carrier, has its challenges. From rail that is owned by the freight rail companies, to schedules that give freight trains the right-of-way while the passenger cars idle on a siding, passenger travel takes an uncomfortable back seat.

Our cross-country trip included six different trains, and, by far, the service was lovely and caring. One notable exception was the Lakeshore Limited, the second leg of our journey. I envisioned a romantic evening excursion, from New York’s Pennsylvania Station to our arrival at Union Station in Chicago the next morning. Fueled by fantasies of Mad Men, of Don Draper relaxing in the bar car, cigarette in one hand, Martini in the other, I anticipated the Hudson River to be our dinner companion, followed by a comfy night in our bedroom. (I might add here that the cost of said bedroom equated to airfare and a night at the Ritz.)

My fantasy started unraveling when we lugged our luggage to our room (WHERE were the porters?), only to find that there was no air. I do not mean that there was no air conditioning, I mean that there was NO AIR.

“Yeah, that’s been broken a while, and the room next door. I don’t want to fiddle with it because that might break the air in the whole car.” When we asked if there was another bedroom available, you guessed it. Not a chance. Well, we reasoned, this was an adventure, and navigated our way to the dining car, threading our way down the narrow corridors, rocked mightily by the train’s motion on track decades past its prime. I will spare you the details of the meal, only to say that it is the first time that I have been served a baked potato that was rotten in the middle.

Still, travel is an adventure, right? That is what I told myself, repeatedly that evening, as I climbed to the upper berth. The stability straps made the ascent even trickier, although, as the night wore on, and the train rocked its way through Ohio, I was grateful that they were there, as I clung to them to make sure that I didn’t tumble unwittingly and unwillingly to the lower berth. I worked hard to settle into the less-than-gentle rocking motion, sounds of Arlo singing Riding on The City of New Orleans playing in my head. That, however, was interrupted by a voice on the loud speaker announcing. “Toilets on this car are broken. Please do not flush.” Sometimes you just have to laugh.

Our train pulled into Chicago, on time. Breakfast was fine, I think. I was simply thankful that I hadn’t suffered a heat stroke. I was doubly grateful that we were met by friends who loved me no matter how shiny my face, how wrinkled my clothes, how matted my hair.

Welcome to Chicago, and air conditioning!

I must add that after a “respectful complaint” to Amtrak, they provided us with a voucher for our fare our Lakeshore Limited experience. Not a refund, but a voucher, so we will again venture on the rails.

I’ll write about our further train adventures over the next few weeks. Hope that you are enjoying these tales, ensconced in your air-conditioned retreat.

Incidentally, my fictional characters fare much better on their train journeys, and theirs is quite a different story from mine. Another Sunday will be available later this year. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure to announce it!

New focus for Upwind

I am, as they say, “book pregnant.” Waiting for Another Sunday to find its way into the world. The publisher targets late fall.

In the meantime, I find myself with thoughts and feelings tied up with the book and its birth, with memories, with opinions. I recently took a train trip across the country, not exactly the same route as the characters in Another Sundaybut close enough that I have been considering and comparing how train travel in 2015 compares to train journeys in 1902. I’ll be sharing those thoughts over the next few weeks. I hope that you will find them of interest.