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Wed Nov 21, 2018, 06:37 PM

Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey

Last edited Wed Nov 21, 2018, 09:46 PM - Edit history (4)

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I'M staying home this Thanksgiving and our two adult boys have only to travel the stairway upstairs to eat a decent meal and grace my wife and I with their interminable charm and wit. It's nice to not have to gussy-up and head out to the in-laws' house. Anyway, we're the elders now, all of our parents long passed on.

I'm going to have football on (my favorite sleep aid), and a rare Thanksgiving night off from work... Who can ask for anything more?

____I haven't always shunned traveling to see relatives on the holidays. Nowadays there's just us 'kids' to gather together, since all of the old ones are gone. There's also a sibling from each side of our family missing from the table, as well, so getting together for holidays these days is less ordered and optional. Still, there was a time when traveling to see the in-laws for the holidays was a pretty big deal.

Bad blood between my parents and their brothers and sisters always prevented my sister and I from traveling with more than one of them when they journeyed back to their hometowns. Mom would usually take Maria and I by train, to Charleston, W.Va., to see our grandfather. Dad would drive us to Reading, Pa. to visit his family.

Union Station in D.C. was mom's territory. We'd usually arrive on the run, with the baggage porter following fast behind with our luggage. We'd hit the darkened train platform with the steam blasting across our path and the most polite men I've ever encountered would give us a hand up onto the train with improbably spotless white gloves (sometimes just as the train was starting to pull out of the station). We'd pull the sliding door between the train open and settle back into the mohair-covered seats with the paper-covered headrests and watch out the window as the city shrank out of sight.

The long journey compelled me to memorize every contour of the yellowing plastic controls on the handle of the seats, and to balance the weight of the molded metal footrests that I raised and lowered incessantly (to my mother's practiced consternation), and let drop with a thunk that repeatedly rattled the seat's occupant.

As I type this, I'm looking at one of the little hand games that she'd pull out of her purse to keep us distracted that she saved over the years. It's one of those little plastic board puzzles with sliding letters that you had to unscramble with the benefit of only one open space. I've also got one with the Addams Family on it, and there were ones with ball-bearings and holes like a miniature pinball machine.

In-between fiddling and snacking on the saltines and mints she'd pocketed from the many restaurants we'd frequented, I'd steal a little freedom from my schoolteacher mom and make a couple of adventurous trips through the doors separating the trains to the restroom. It was a rather chaotic arrangement where the trains were coupled in those days, often with little more than a chain or bar keeping you from falling out the sides between the cars. Later, there would be a more elaborate barrier, but the effect was still the same rush of danger as you could see the tracks whizzing by underneath the shifting metal plates on the floor. I can remember sticking my little head outside of one of the windows to recklessly gauge the violent wind as the train sped along.

When we would go through a tunnel, Mom would have us holler
'OhiOOOOOOO' until we came out the other end -- trying as hard as we were able to do it on one breath. She soon regretted teaching us that, tho...

When we'd arrive at the station in Charleston, Granddad would be waiting with his huge Oldsmobile that smelled like the cigars, pipes, and Pall Malls he smoked constantly.

The rest of the trip was a memorable string of visits to relatives, capped off by an extraordinary meal at my cousin Gussy's who would cook greens in ham fat until they literally melted in your mouth. She had two trees in her front yard that were painted white halfway up the trunk and tiny red bugs crawled up and down. There was an active railroad track a few feet from her back door where we'd put pennies on the rail for the passing trains to flatten.

Life on Thanksgiving was ancient and slow in Charleston; as slow as the snails we poured salt on in front of Gussy's house; as deliberate as my Uncle Moore who would be watching the football game on television with unbreakable concentration... unmovable, except for that one day I fell onto the hard ground from one of the trees out front with a branch in my hand and he ran outside thinking I might be dead.

There was a lady living in town we'd visit who had been stuck in bed for years (I never saw her get up) who was always in her nightgown and robe. Mom said she tried to get up one morning and found she couldn't walk. She was a kind woman with several pictures of Jesus on the wall, and there was a kind, dedicated soul who took care of her who had a huge goiter on her neck. The bedridden lady always gave my sister and I some change before we set off again for countless more visits.

We'd repeat the tradition (and glut) of Thanksgiving dinner on a couple more visits, well into the evening, with several other folks in Charleston who had grown up with mom. Then we'd take another long train journey home.

I remember the dining car and the linens... very formal, but I remember Mom getting something off-menu for us kids from the man behind the bar. We rarely had a compartment, but it was definitely better for sleeping than the seats. Thankfully, they would turn the lights down low past a certain point in the night, and the steward would offer us a railroad wool blanket and a little pillow so we could sleep as best we could in those rough seats...


Travel on the holidays with Dad was a decidedly less formal affair. There weren't any of the social rules or the prim and proper trappings that Mom insisted on maintaining while in her company. The three of us would pile into one of his Impalas (later, Caprices) and hit the turnpike. There would be rest stops and a 'Stuckey's' along the way with string licorice, frosted funnel cakes, and giant lollipops to make our little exodus more enjoyable.

We'd sing every song we knew on the AM dial out loud, the three of us. Roger Miller would come on dozen or more times and we'd belt out every line of 'King of the Road'. I think it was Doris Day who would come on with 'You Are My Sunshine', and Sinatra would sing 'Sentimental Journey' (or was it the other way around?) as we all sang along. We were the best of friends in that car, away from the strict eye and tongue of my well-meaning mother.

Even my Dad would abandon his suits for the trip and opt for his Army fatigues and sweatshirt (he'd change out of his work suit and tie everyday and put on another to go shopping). He was the only one of nine kids to make it out of that town, so, the buttoned-down bureaucrat look just wouldn't cut it in the town he said was famous for 'pretzels, prostitutes, and beer...' We'd eat at Grandma's house and Granddad would even be welcomed back for dinner.

Grandma was a striking Indian woman with long tan-white hair. She had a voice like angels purring, but she was a powerful woman who raised her nine children on 'relief' after Granddad fled with them to Reading from Black Mountain, N.C., after some trouble with the sheriff down there. He kept the kids out of school until the state agreed to provide clothes for them, and about half of the nine kids ended up integrating the Quaker school nearby. Later in life, Granddad could be found every day outside of the factory gates at noon and at quitting time watching the women go by.

All of their kids but two would show up for Thanksgiving (one died young from a stabbing, the other died young due to another misfortune of their rough life). One uncle would have to sneak in after dark, as the sheriff would always lay in wait to try and arrest him on holidays and other occasions (especially at the funerals) for neglecting the several children he had fathered here and there around town.

We'd eat a magnificent meal cooked in the tiny kitchen hanging off the back of the house, prepared in iron skillets and served on ancient porcelain dinnerware on the pastel blue-washed, oak table with highback, wooden chairs. Granddad, dressed in his purple suit, yellow shirt, and green shoes, would say grace...

I own all of these holiday memories from my childhood now, as all of the members of the immediate family I grew up with have passed on. I can only remember the good and the bad times with equal nostalgia. I am the only one left who can recall the sights, smells, and flavor of that past. It's all become part of a wonderful stew of memories to measure my own family's holiday experiences against. Holiday travel; always a sentimental journey.


Gonna take a sentimental journey
Gonna set my heart at ease
Gonna make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories

Got my bag, I got my reservation
Spent each dime I could afford
Like a child in wild anticipation
Long to hear that: "All aboard!"

Seven, that's the time we leave at - seven
I'll be waiting up for heaven
Counting every mile of railroad track - that takes me back

Never thought my heart could be so yearning
Why did I decide to roam?
Gotta take this sentimental journey
Sentimental journey home

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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey (Original post)
bigtree Nov 2018 OP
monmouth4 Nov 2018 #1
bigtree Nov 2018 #3
inanna Nov 2018 #2
bigtree Nov 2018 #4
bigtree Nov 2018 #5
onethatcares Nov 2018 #6
bigtree Nov 2018 #8
grantcart Nov 2018 #7
bigtree Nov 2018 #9
Ptah Nov 2018 #10
spanone Nov 2018 #11

Response to bigtree (Original post)

Wed Nov 21, 2018, 07:08 PM

1. How I loved reading this bigtree, thanks so much for posting it. Happy Thanksgiving to you. n/t

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Response to monmouth4 (Reply #1)

Wed Nov 21, 2018, 09:44 PM

3. thanks for reading, monmouth4!

...hope you have a nice Thanksgiving.

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Wed Nov 21, 2018, 08:23 PM

2. Kick.

That was a very enjoyable read. Thanks for posting.

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Response to inanna (Reply #2)

Thu Nov 22, 2018, 02:46 AM

4. thanks, inanna!

...thanks for reading!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Thu Nov 22, 2018, 09:52 AM

5. kick

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Thu Nov 22, 2018, 03:12 PM

6. ahhh, the Reading of my youth

Franklin Street Station and the Pagoda.

Did you know that the streetlights of the Warren Street Bypass spell "Shit" when seen from the Pagoda parking lot.

Thanks for bringing back memories and thank you for the story.

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Response to onethatcares (Reply #6)

Thu Nov 22, 2018, 11:10 PM

8. the Pagoda

...I had forgotten.

One of the nation's oddest placed historic landmarks. Cool old bell, though.

Thanks for reading, onethatcares.

...btw, a bit more 'Reading' in here: https://www.democraticunderground.com/118712475

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Thu Nov 22, 2018, 03:18 PM

7. Great read

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Response to grantcart (Reply #7)

Thu Nov 22, 2018, 11:11 PM

9. thanks, grantcart!

...Happy Thanksgiving!

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Fri Nov 23, 2018, 09:05 AM

10. Simply beautiful.

Thanks for sharing, bigtree.

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Fri Nov 23, 2018, 09:07 AM

11. K&R...

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