Reprinting a story I love in honor of Tell a Story Day
Illustration by Kathleen Holdaway Swain
Train ride 2Going to Grandma’s was the biggest thrill imaginable!!! After days of anticipation, Mother woke us long before dawn on the big day. Our bags were in the car and off we went. It was still dark at the depot as Daddy got our tickets and our bags out of the car. Mother hustled us to the bathroom one last time while Daddy was still there to help with the baby. Barely containing my joy during the pre-trip behavior threat, I patiently tried to look like as though I was listening. I didn’t know Daddy knew anybody at the depot, so was surprised when called out, “Porter, Porter!” A nice man came to help with our suitcases and lunch hamper. Daddy gave him some money and asked him to “take good care of us.” I wanted some money, but Mother shushed me.
Daddy kissed us all goodbye. Loaded with baggage, Mr. Porter led the way. Mother struggled down the aisle with baby Billy. A tiny woman, Billy stretched almost to her knees. We trailed behind, Phyllis carrying Mother’s purse and overstuffed diaper bag. I was trusted with a big bag loaded with blankets, books, toys, and other necessities. We bumped sleeping passengers making our way down the aisle as far away from the other passengers as possible. Mr. Porter flipped the seat back so we could all sit facing each other. Mother was exhausted and hoped we’d all go back to sleep. Ha! I was wild with excitement!
Finally, the train moved, wheels ka-whumping as we picked up speed. We looked out the window at the cows, fields, and the backs of houses and barns. As the sun came up we saw farmers on their tractors and waved at kids in their backyards. Pretty soon, we realized we hadn’t had breakfast and Mother pulled boiled eggs and ham biscuits out of the lunch hamper. Sharing a cup of milk from a thermos, Phyllis drank first, saying she didn’t want my crumbs in her milk. Mother wiped our faces with a damp washcloth pulled out of her bag. Mother had a blanket for Phyllis and me to share, a bottle and blanket for the baby, and big hopes that we’d all go to sleep.
Three of them did. I was wide awake. More fields, more of the back of towns, nothing to do. Passengers starting moving back and forth down the aisle. What were they doing? Reluctantly, Mother told me they were going to the bathroom. Bathroom? Trains had bathrooms? I had to go to the bathroom!
“I gotta go! I gotta go! I’m gonna wet my pants.” Mother looked pained.
“You just went. The baby is asleep. You have to wait.”
Mother, Phyllis and the baby slept. I looked out the window; more farms, cows and tractors, more back sides of town. She shoved my Night Before Christmas book at me, telling me to read it. I already had it memorized, was surprised once again to find the last page ripped in half. I was mad!
“Mother, I don’t like this book any more. The last page is gone!” She didn’t even wake up. “Mooooother!”
She opened her eyes and gave me a hard look, hissing like a snake. “Don’t make me come over there. The baby’s asleep.” Making Mother come over there was never a good idea. “Shut your eyes right now and go to sleep. I’d better not see a wiggle out of you!” (between clamped teeth). I could tell she meant it. I gave up and shut my eyes, but made up my mind not to go to sleep.
It was strange waking up on the train. Phyllis was leaned against the window, drool running down her chin. The baby slept snuggled up to Mother. Her head was back, eyes shut. I knew better than to wake her up, knowing she might still still be mean. I tore a tiny piece of paper from the last page of my book, leaned forward and tickled the baby’s face just a little. He moved and settled back down. I tickled again, careful not to wake Mother or Phyllis. He woke up, smiled at me and started moving around, wiggling and reaching for the paper scrap. I held it almost close enough for him to grab, pulling it back as he grabbed, over and over. He laughed out loud. His wiggling and laughing woke Mother. She was in a better mood after her nap.
By now, I really did have to go to the bathroom. I held on to seatbacks as I walked on the rocking train. People smiled and nodded as we passed. They thought we were “so cute” and “so sweet”. They were really nice. Mother and I went in first while Phyllis sat near the bathroom holding the baby. The cute bathroom funny little toilet and sink. After I finished, Mother pressed a little button and a door opened in the bottom of the potty. The wee wee splashed straight down on the track! It was hilarious. I could see the track as the train moved. Then I washed my hands and held Mother’s purse. I wanted to stay longer and explore but we had to let Phyllis have her turn. Mother whispered and told Phyllis how everything worked while she went in alone. No fair! She was out in just a minute. Bathroom break was over, so back to our seats.
Mother read us a new story book while the baby played beside her on the seat. It was a really good story about flying horses and fairies. Phyllis was in the second grade, the best reader in the class. When Mother got tired, Phyllis read to me while Mother played with the baby. This train ride was going great. Mr. Porter came through again selling magazines, papers, snacks, and drinks. Mother asked if she would be able to get fresh milk in her thermos later for the baby’s bottle. Mr. Porter said, “Yes, Ma’am. Easier now than later”. He took the milk thermos and brought it back full. He refused her money, “Already taken care of.” Mother wouldn’t let me get a snack or drink from Mr. Porter. No fair. What made that stupid baby so special?
I turned and looked out the window. More trees, backs of town, cows, and kids playing in back yards. I wished I could play with them instead of being stuck on this boring train. Phyllis finished the story. She pulled a box of paper-dolls out of the big bag. She was an excellent cutter and her paper-doll clothes still had all their tabs. I wanted to play but she was still mad because I cut tabs off last time. She was not good at sharing. Mother gave me a ‘barrel of monkeys’ toy. The baby liked them too. He laughed and grabbed at them when I danced them in front of him. We played till Mr. Porter came through selling sandwiches and drinks.“The diamond car is open for lunch.”
“Oh goody! Time to go to lunch!” I jumped up. Mother caught my arm and whispered, “No, it’s too expensive. We brought our lunch.”
“But I wanna go to the diamond car.” I whined. Mother didn’t allow whining.
“It’s not the diamond car. It’s the dining car. Now, stop that whining! We don’t have the money to eat in the dining car. I made us a very nice picnic lunch.” I could tell she meant it about the whining. Lunch was cold, fried chicken, cold ham biscuits, more boiled eggs, and apples. After lunch, we had milk from the thermos and washed our faces with the same damp washrag. The good news was, we could go to the bathroom again. Mother and I went first. I saw the train track again. Mother let me sit with a friendly grandma lady while she went in.
I told her we were going to Grandma’s…Daddy left us in the dark…that we didn’t have money to buy food…Mr. Porter gave Mother milk for the baby’s bottle…not enough rags for everybody. She looked sad. She dug in her purse and pulled out some money, patted my hand, and said. “This is for your poor, poor mother.” She really liked me!
While Phyllis went to the bathroom, I told Mother about the nice lady who gave me money for my poor, poor mother, “What did you tell her?” she hissed. (Mother hissed a lot.) I told her about going to Grandma’s…Daddy left us in the dark…not enough rags for everybody…Mr. Porter had to give her milk for the baby…not enough money for food. Mother’s face turned red. She left the baby with Phyllis, told me to stay put, took the money and went to talk to the nice lady. She was gone for a few minutes and came back without the money. Boy, was she mad! “I’ve told you not to tell everything you know. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life!” I tried to explain that I didn’t tell everything I knew, but she just shushed me.
“You shut your eyes, sit still, and don’t you say a word to anybody till I tell you.”
Time drags when you can’t talk. My feelings were hurt. I got the blanket and acted like I was asleep. Ka-whump, ka-whump, ka-whump. The sun was warm on my face. Maybe I had a fever. I imagined how sorry Mother would when I got sick and couldn’t even tell her. The ambulance would take me away and they would never see me again…She and Phyllis would cry and cry, but it would be too late. I would go to the hospital where the nurses loved me so much they let me to stay forever. The story went on and on. I never did get to the end. I woke up and my mouth was dry. Mother and the baby were asleep. Phyllis was reading a book. I wanted to go to the bathroom, but couldn’t ask without talking. Phyllis saw me looking around and told me “Mother said, ‘be still and you better not wake the baby. He just went to sleep’.” She dug a new book out of the bag and read to me for a long time. She could be nice, sometimes.
Mother woke up just before I thought I would pop. Phyllis and the baby were both asleep. “Mother, I gotta go! I gotta go!”
“You went just before lunch. You don’t need to go yet. If I get up now I’ll wake the baby. He’ll cry and disturb everyone. You’ll have to wait a while.” I waited. I waited some more.
“I’ve really, really gotta go! Let me go by myself. I’m a big girl. I know what to do. You showed me how to flush and wash my hands. Puh…lease. Puh…lease. You let Phyllis go.”
Mother thought. Finally, she gave in. “Okay, but I can see you every step. Go straight there and back. Don’t play in the bathroom. Do your business, wash with soap and dry your hands, and come straight back. Don’t you dare talk to anybody!” I got sick of all her silly instructions. I went by myself. Everything went fine. The friendly grandma lady looked away when I went by. That was rude. She’d liked me before.
The train ride stayed the same for a long time. I went to the bathroom again. No problem. We had fried chicken, no more boiled eggs, fruit, biscuits, and more milk. It was nice not having vegetables. We had been on the train all day and still weren’t there. Phyllis read me another story and we played Old Maids. I was sick of the train. Phyllis showed me how to do tricks with string. It was hard. I’d be glad to be big like Phyllis so I could do things. Soon after dark, Mother said it was time to go to sleep. She would wake us when the train got to Grandma’s town. Where would we sleep? I didn’t see any beds. Mother spread our blanket on the seat making a bed for Phyllis and me and one for the baby on their seat. Mother was going to sleep sitting up! We were set, except for one more trip to the bathroom. Phyllis was putting things away and helping Mother get the baby ready for bed, so I went first. Finally, Mother had enough sense to know I was old enough to go the bathroom alone, and didn’t aggravate me with a list of instructions.
I was steady on the moving train now, so I ran, crashing into the bathroom door with both hands. Faaalaap!! Pow!! Pow!! It seemed like time stopped as the door bowed in the middle, finally turning loose at both ends and exploding inward. Sleeping passengers screamed and jumped up, nowhere to run. Men cursed. I couldn’t use a bathroom like that so I went back to the seat. The grandma lady gave me a horrible look. Passengers glared at me from every seat I passed on the long walk back to Mother.
I skulked to my seat, shrinking down as small as possible, not daring a look at Mother or Phyllis. For once, nobody said a word. I couldn’t even imagine a punishment bad enough for tearing up a train. Would I go to jail? Finally, I sneaked a peak at Phyllis. She was fascinated by The Night Before Christmas and didn’t even look up. Mother had her eyes squinched shut and was rocking the baby like she hadn’t heard a thing. I sat down, shut my eyes and pretended to sleep. I didn’t use the bathroom for the rest of the trip. Neither did anyone else!