By Karen Brode
The train made a clackety-clack sound as it rolled on the tracks toward California. It was as far as Winnie had ever been from Ambrose, and she felt a little scared when she looked around and saw no one that she had ever seen before. She took deep breaths and tried to focus on her book, “How Green Was My Valley”. She had seen the movie and now she was reading the book. It was usually better to do that in the reverse order. Now, instead of her imagination taking over and supplying faces and voices for the characters, she was seeing the people who starred in the movie.
She rubbed the cushioned seat and tried to relax as she watched New Mexico going by outside. She had never seen such red earth and such desolate places. There were miles and miles of canyons and gulleys with nothing at all growing, but it was kind of pretty in a way.
One of her good friends lived in Portales, New Mexico. Actually, she was a distant relative. She and Winnie wrote to each other once a week. Every Sunday afternoon, Winnie got out her stamps, envelopes, and writing tablet to correspond with all the family members who were far away.
Her cousin’s name was Foy, Foy Outhouse. Foy also taught junior high math. Winnie could just imagine the titters and guffaws when Foy introduced herself to the class. When Winnie was being thankful, she was often thankful that her last name was not Outhouse.
She wanted to see Santa Fe, but they would go through there at 3 AM so she wouldn’t see much. She had heard all her life about the beautiful crafts and Indian artifacts. She would have loved to spend some time there, but the train didn’t stop there.
The nights on the train were the worst time. Some people had bought berths to sleep in, but Winnie had only purchased her train seat all the way to California. She was young, only thirty one. She could sit in a train seat for thirty hours.
The truth was that she hadn’t wanted to spend the money for a sleeping berth. She could be a tightwad. It’s how she had bought her cars. She had saved and saved her money until she could go down to the car dealership and pay cash. And she didn’t pay the first price that was quoted to her either. She always said she would come back later then the salesman practically begged her to look at this other car, or that one. The prices got better and better.
An older woman sat across the aisle from her, a Mrs. Angela Jacobsen from Amarillo who had told Winnie that Amarillo meant yellow in Spanish. The woman made her own dress and wore a corsage. Winnie hoped that the corsage lasted all the way to their destination. The two little children with the woman had fallen asleep much to Winnie’s relief. They were on their way to a funeral in Arizona. Winnie felt sorry for the woman having to travel with children.
People felt sorry for Winnie sometimes when they learned that she was not married, had no children, but Winnie didn’t feel sorry for herself. She loved babies, but after children reached a certain age, she could stand them only in small doses. She taught in junior high when children were at their worst. Parents were so often wringing their hands in worry and misery. She was so glad that those children were not her own.
She rubbed at the window with her handkerchief. There were some bright flowers blooming not far from the tracks. She wished her momma could see them. Her eyes teared at the thought of her momma. Just fifty-two years old and so many problems. Her mother had never been what you would call healthy, at least not in Winnie’s lifetime, but it seemed that the last twenty years had been hardest on her.
She remembered the day her brother, Travis, got his draft notice. Effie screamed and told him to throw it in the trash! Burn it! Travis had looked from his mother to Winnie and walked out of the room. It was 1942. Young men had to join the military.
Effie had gone to bed and been ill for several days. When Travis walked past her room, she seemed to cough louder and cry harder, but Travis had gone to the draft board and signed up. He had to. He understood that. He didn’t know why his mother could not understand things.
He had joined the Navy. Winnie thought he looked very handsome in his Navy Blues, but most of all, she was proud that her brother was helping in the war effort. Churchill and Roosevelt would get this taken care of, and the world would return to normal. Winnie had faith.
The porter came down the aisle with warm milk to help people sleep. Winnie took some and tipped the porter a nickel. Nighttime on the train was hard because no one in the U.S. was allowed to have lights on after dark. When she looked out the window, she could see nothing. The train might as well have been traveling through the depths of hell, she thought as she closed her eyes. Even Ambrose had been advised to turn off their one streetlight. Winnie smiled to herself as she thought of Ambrose as a possible target for Hitler and his forces.
Just last week, she had heard a radio program about Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The reporter described entire families being loaded into military trucks and taken to camps in Germany. Winnie shuddered and was glad she lived in the U.S.where Roosevelt would never allow anything like that to happen. She liked Franklin D. Roosevelt a lot, especially his wife Eleanor, who wasn’t pretty at all but who still had a full life and did lots of good works. Winnie respected women like Mrs. Roosevelt. She wanted to be like her.
Franklin Roosevelt reminded her of her daddy. When he sat down to have a fireside chat with the nation, Winnie often pictured her daddy, John Hawk, instead of Franklin Roosevelt doing the talking.
Roosevelt would say, “I hate wahh, Eleanoah hates wahh, and Fowla hates wahh….” as if a dog could hate war! Roosevelt was very personable. Winnie felt that she knew him well.
Her mind turned to her mother again. When her daddy had taken her to the train station in Bells, her mother had sat in her chair crying.
“All of my children are gone now,” Effie had said between sobs. Winnie had reminded her that she was only going to San Diego to see Travis, and she would be back in 10 days. It wasn’t forever.
Still, all her mother could see was her leaving. At times, Winnie thought her daddy was tired of it all, but then he would clap his hands and ask Effie to go get some ice cream with him, and she would let herself be talked out of her bad mood. Winnie hoped that her daddy had done something like that after he took her to the train station in Bells.
Winnie heard the muffled cries of the child across the aisle. She heard Mrs. Jacobsen try to quiet him and rearrange his body in sleep. The poor mother couldn’t stretch out or relax, but the children were sleeping in the seat next to her.
When it began to get light, Winnie opened her eyes. She suddenly remembered that she was on a train headed to California to see Travis at the naval base! It had been her mother’s idea that she go, but when Winnie decided to really go, she hadn’t wanted her to leave after all. In the end, Effie wanted Winnie to stay with her, take care of her. Effie was childish in many ways. It was almost as if Winnie was the parent now.
Winnie got out her mirror and looked at her bloodshot eyes and sallow complexion. She would need to sleep, because in the morning she would see Travis! She tried not to get excited. There was still such a long way to go. It was better to hold off the excitement until she was almost there.
Karen Brode grew up in Denison, TX and graduated from Denison High School in 1972. She took courses at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and worked in a church office for 25 years. She and her husband, Gary, have been married 39 years and they have one son, Brandon. Karen’s hobbies are writing, sewing, and gardening.