HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » A Sentimental Journey
Introducing Discussionist: A new forum by the creators of DU

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 10:58 AM

A Sentimental Journey

Last edited Sun Nov 18, 2012, 01:02 PM - Edit history (4)

_______________

Every year I have a hankering to pull this old softie out to commemorate the Thanksgiving holiday. It's the dominant theme and music running through my head this time of year, and I just can't resist giving it one more spin . . .


I'm staying home this Thanksgiving and our two adult boys have only to travel the stairway to the upstairs to eat a decent meal, and to grace my wife and me with their interminable charm and wit. It's nice to not have to gussy-up and head out to the in-laws. I'm going to have football on all day and our local 'Redskins' are playing their eternal rivals, the 'Cowboys,' this time around. 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 each on both sides of our family missing from the table, as well, so getting together for the holidays these days is less ordered and optional. But 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 family from traveling with more than one of them when they journeyed back to their hometowns. Mom would usually take my only sister and me, by train, to Charleston, WVa., to see our grandfather; Dad would drive us to Reading, Pa. to visit his family.

Union Station in D.C. was my mom's territory. We'd usually arrive on the run, with the baggage porter following behind with our luggage. We'd hit the train platform with the steam blasting across our path and get a hand up onto the train from the most polite men I've ever encountered (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 always led me to memorize every contour of the yellowing plastic controls on the handle of the seats, and to balance the weight of the elegantly molded metal footrests that I raised and lowered incessantly (to my mother's practiced consternation). 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 occupied 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 Adams 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'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; smelled like the spittoon he spat in that sat beside the patched-up red recliner where he watched his ball games with the sound turned up way loud and his eyes closed.

The rest of the trip was a memorable and exhausting 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 was ancient and slow in Charleston; as slow as the snails we poured salt on; as deliberate as my Uncle Moore who would be watching the game with an unbreakable concentration . . . except for that one day when I came down hard on the ground with a branch in my hand from one of the trees out front and he thought I might be dead.

Travel on the holidays with Dad was a decidedly less formal affair. There weren't any of the social rules and 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 (Caprices) and hit the turnpike. There would be rest stops and Stuckeys 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' as we sang along with the radio. 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 (he'd change out of his work suit and tie everyday and put on another to go shopping) and opt for his Army fatigues and sweatshirt. He was the only one of 9 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 blond-white hair and a voice that sounded like angels purring -- but she was a powerful woman who raised her nine children on Relief after Granddad had fled with them, up to Reading from Black Mountain, N.C., after he had some trouble with the sheriff. He kept the kids out of school until the state would agree to provide clothes for them and about half of them ended up integrating the Quaker school there. 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 (one who died young from a stabbing, the other died young due to another misfortune of their rough life). One Uncle had to sneak in after dark as the sheriff would always lay in wait to try and arrest him (especially at the funerals) for neglecting the several children he had here and there around town. We'd eat a magnificent meal cooked in the tiny kitchen at the back of the house in iron skillets and served on thick, ancient porcelain dinnerware. 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

20 replies, 1286 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 20 replies Author Time Post
Reply A Sentimental Journey (Original post)
bigtree Nov 2012 OP
wendylaroux Nov 2012 #1
bigtree Nov 2012 #2
Spazito Nov 2012 #3
bigtree Nov 2012 #6
Spazito Nov 2012 #7
livetohike Nov 2012 #4
bigtree Nov 2012 #8
livetohike Nov 2012 #9
riderinthestorm Nov 2012 #5
bigtree Nov 2012 #10
riderinthestorm Nov 2012 #11
LineNew Reply .
bigtree Nov 2012 #12
Honeycombe8 Nov 2012 #13
bigtree Nov 2012 #14
Autumn Nov 2012 #15
bigtree Nov 2012 #16
LineNew Reply .
bigtree Nov 2012 #17
LineNew Reply .
bigtree Nov 2012 #18
LineNew Reply .
bigtree Nov 2012 #19
LineNew Reply .
bigtree Nov 2012 #20

Response to bigtree (Original post)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 11:30 AM

1. Thank you for this.

This touched my old,crusty hard heart in ways I had thought was impossible. I am now going to youtube to look for a certain song,so I can cry even more. Oh,and are you a professional writer?

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to wendylaroux (Reply #1)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 11:36 AM

2. thanks for reading, wendy

. . . and, sadly, no to professional writing. Maybe I'd enjoy it less . . .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 12:33 PM

3. I love this...

it evokes such strong memories for me, train trips across the country to visit my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins. My brother going to each and every washroom on the train and pocketing all the little paper-wrapped pieces of soap and the porter coming to our compartment asking for them back, linen covered dining tables, a train car decorated just like the old soda shops we now see in the old Happy Days episodes and the car actually had sodas.

My uncles pulling out their fiddles and guitars, everyone singing and dancing.

They have all passed now but they live on in my memories, memories your OP brought roaring back.

Thank you.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Spazito (Reply #3)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 03:15 PM

6. yes, Spazito

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 dow low past a certain point in the night so we could sleep as best we could in those rough seats.

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 . . . .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Reply #6)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 08:52 PM

7. LOL on the OhiOOOO!

I had forgotten about the tunnels, we used to open the window and listen to the clacking of the train on the tracks as they echoed off the tunnel walls. I never figured out how my parents scraped up the money for a compartment as they were just plain working folks, they must have saved up for a long time to do it. We had to travel from Vancouver to Nova Scotia to see the relatives so we didn't see them much at all growing up but when we did it was wonderful and made for a trip full of treasured memories.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 12:37 PM

4. Thank you for this....

you write so beautifully, too .

"Sentimental Journey" was my Dad's favorite song. I can still hear him singing it, even though he has been gone since Nov. 2004 (he died four days after "Dumbo" won the election).

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to livetohike (Reply #4)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 11:27 PM

8. thanks for reading, livetohike

those are wonderful memories of your dad. I'm grateful for the memories.

Hope this Thanksgiving season finds you and yours safe and well

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Reply #8)

Mon Nov 19, 2012, 09:06 AM

9. Thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes

Same to you and your family. I have most of my immediate family coming here .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Sun Nov 18, 2012, 12:48 PM

5. Beautiful as a Thanksgiving table all laid out and ready for grace.

Thanks for sharing this bigtree. Your story is enchanting.

Hugs to you and your family and I hope Thanksgiving day is as lovely as your story....

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to riderinthestorm (Reply #5)

Mon Nov 19, 2012, 10:02 AM

10. riderinthestorm

thanks for the kind words. As I say, this essay of mine works its magic on me every Thanksgiving. Glad to see that it takes a few folks there, as well.

Hugs all around, riderinthestorm. Here's to the memories . . .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Mon Nov 19, 2012, 10:12 AM

11. A great way to kick off a Monday morning... nt

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink



Response to bigtree (Original post)

Wed Nov 21, 2012, 10:20 AM

13. Very nice. I could hear that song in my head the whole time I read your post. Here ya go.


Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Honeycombe8 (Reply #13)

Wed Nov 21, 2012, 10:57 AM

14. thanks, Honeycombe8!

hope you have a nice Thanksgiving

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Wed Nov 21, 2012, 11:01 AM

15. And what a journey it was

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving bigtree and thanks for sharing your journey. Becoming the elder generation in the family is quite eye opening isn't it.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to Autumn (Reply #15)

Wed Nov 21, 2012, 11:13 AM

16. I'm so OOOOLD!

I wonder if the young ones see me the same way I did my elders? I've GOT to be MUCH cooler! (I know I'm kidding myself, lol!)

Thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes, Autumn! It's one of my favorite days of the year. Hope all goes well with you and yours, too

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Wed Nov 21, 2012, 08:06 PM

17. .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Wed Nov 21, 2012, 09:12 PM

18. .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Wed Nov 21, 2012, 11:44 PM

19. .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink


Response to bigtree (Original post)

Thu Nov 22, 2012, 06:35 AM

20. .

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread