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Thu Nov 25, 2021, 01:38 AM

A Sentimental Journey

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 . . .
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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

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Reply A Sentimental Journey (Original post)
bigtree Nov 25 OP
alwaysinasnit Nov 25 #1
bigtree Nov 25 #3
SheilaAnn Nov 25 #2
bigtree Nov 25 #4
Elessar Zappa Nov 25 #5
bigtree Nov 25 #6
bigtree Nov 25 #7

Response to bigtree (Original post)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 02:32 AM

1. Thanks for sharing bigtree! What wonderful memories you have.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Response to alwaysinasnit (Reply #1)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 11:01 AM

3. my guilty pleasure, alwaysinasnit

...hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving day.

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 05:48 AM

2. Such a wonderful read, I could imagine every bit of it. Thank you for posting. n/t

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Response to SheilaAnn (Reply #2)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 11:03 AM

4. you're very welcome, Shelia Ann

...always a kick for me to share it here.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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Response to bigtree (Original post)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 11:05 AM

5. K&R.

Excellent read, thanks for posting!

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Response to Elessar Zappa (Reply #5)

Thu Nov 25, 2021, 11:14 AM

6. thanks for reading, Elessar

...best wishes to you on this Thanksgiving holiday.

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