[Note: Having finished my backpacking through Europe memoir, Two Inch Heels, I’m returning to writing a more imagined “memoir” of my life starting at age three. This is chapter 16. If you’re interested, you can see the first fifteen chapters by clicking here.]
I was so excited! Today we were going to take the train to go “back east”, wherever that was, to visit my “grandparents”, whatever they were. I did know what trains were, because I had seen them on TV, on cartoons and other shows. I had also seen them for real when we were in the car and we had to stop and wait for a train to go in front of us. But I had never gone on one myself.
I liked all the “packing” we had to do for the trip. We had to decide what to bring and what was “too much”. My mom and dad seemed to like it too, though they said it was a “challenge” because of all the extra stuff they had to bring for David, including “that damn diaper pail”. But I could tell they still really liked it by the way they were moving around full of energy. I liked seeing all the different “suitcases” in the living room full of stuff that we were taking with us. I wondered what was in each one. It was almost as fun as seeing all the wrapped Christmas presents under the tree.
It was almost Christmas but we didn’t have a Christmas tree like last year. That was because we were going to be spending Christmas at “your grandparents”, and they were going to have the tree and my presents would be there.
I knew it was winter and that winter was one of the four seasons, along with spring, summer and fall, which was also called “autumn”. Each season was a quarter of the year and had three months in it. The months in winter were December, January and February. March was the first month of spring, though my mom said that was “wishful thinking”, because it was usually still really cold in March. The entire year had twelve months and they were like the numbers on a clock. One was January. Two was February. And so on to the last month, the twelve month, which was December. My mom had explained it all to me and even drew me pictures to help me figure it out.
Thinking about years, I had asked my mom how old I was. She said I was “three and three quarters”. I liked that. I liked it so much that I stood in the living room with all the suitcases, grabbed my little finger with my thumb and held out the other three fingers on each hand and said, for everyone to hear, “I’m three and three quarters!”
“You are indeed, Coolie”, my mom said with a happy voice from the kitchen.
David seemed happy too. He was crawling all over the living room floor looking at and touching the suitcases. Now that he was crawling and sitting up he couldn’t sleep in the white basket thing anymore and slept in a thing with bars on the side called a “crib”. It was in the living room, where the basket thing had been. Mom and dad said that they were “thinking about” moving his crib into my room, because our house only had two bedrooms, and their bedroom had too much furniture in it for the crib to fit. I wasn’t sure about having his crib in my room, because I was worried David might cry at night when my parents were asleep.
I was extra excited because the train did not leave until dinnertime so I had all day to think about everything. I got so excited, mom had dad take me over to the park. First we went to Molly’s house and she could come to the park too. The snow was falling which made it even more fun. Molly and I played on the monkey bars and the merry-go-round. We pretended that the monkey bars were Tom Swift’s flying laboratory. It had a downstairs part and an upstairs part. The part at the top in the middle was the control room. The part at the bottom was where you made inventions. I wanted the merry-go-round to be Tom’s Jetmarine, but Molly wanted it to be Sky King’s plane, because she always wanted to be Sky King. We decided that Sky King had a special plane that could also go underwater, just like Tom Swift’s Jetmarine.
Molly’s mom drove us to the train station in their station wagon because there was extra room to put all the suitcases and boxes. Molly came along too, but we had to sit in the regular back seat because they put the wayback seat down to fit all those suitcases and boxes. Molly’s mom drove, and dad sat with her in the other front part. Mom sat in the back with us with David on her lap. It was getting dark but it was still snowing. When we got to the station we had to carry everything to the flat part next to the track they called the “platform”. Molly and I got to carry my mom’s “traincase”, which was her smallest suitcase. We went inside the little house part of the station and sat in chairs.
Molly’s mom wanted to go home right away, but Molly wanted to stay until the train came. I could tell Molly’s mom didn’t want to do that, but she finally said okay, it would be a “learning experience”, since Molly had never seen the train before up close. It seemed to take forever for the train to come. Molly and I kept looking out the window at the “tracks”, the long bars it went on, to see if it was coming. Finally this dark thing with a very bright light in front appeared and turned its light toward the station.
Molly yelled out, “It’s coming! It’s coming!”
Molly’s mom shook her head. “Molly Wheeler. We are all right here. You don’t need to yell!”
We went out on the platform and it was coming down the track to the station. The light in the front of it was so bright it made it hard to see the rest of it. That light and the engine behind it finally went by us, all loud grinding noise, steam and energy. I had never seen anything so big that could actually move. Behind the engine was a giant long thing with wheels and windows and doors, screeching steam coming out from between the wheels on the bottom as the giant thing came to a stop. But it still seemed like it was breathing. Not turned off, but waiting, breathing.
Two doors opened up and grownups in blue uniforms stepped out of each. I wondered if they were soldiers, but they had blue caps instead of helmets. Dad gave them something he had been holding in his hand. The blue guy looked at it, then looked at me and mom with David in her arms and nodded. He helped dad take all our suitcases up through the door inside the train. Then dad came out again and said we should get on.
“Have a wonderful trip you guys. Over the meadows and through the woods!” Molly’s mom called out.
“Thanks Joan”, mom said, “Thanks for all your help with everything, you and Jack both! Love to Jack!”
“Thanks Joan”, dad said.
Molly was shivering next to me with excitement, her mom behind her holding on to her shoulders.
“Can I go on and see the inside?” she said.
The man in blue looked at Molly then up at her mom. “Sorry”, he said, “This is a very quick stop, otherwise it would be okay!”
Molly got a fierce look and jammed her thumb in her mouth and bit on the tip. I hadn’t seen her do that in a while. Her mom rubbed the top of her head.
Dad climbed down from the door and helped mom climb on with David in her arms. Then he reached out his arm for me.
“Say goodbye to Cooper and wish him a safe journey!” Molly’s mom said to Molly, tapping her shoulder.
Molly had a strange look I couldn’t figure out. She looked at me and took her thumb out from between her teeth. “Your lucky Coob. So lucky. I want to go too.”
I looked at her back and everything was just the two of us for a moment. I nodded that I knew that she did, but couldn’t think what words to say.
“C’mon Coop”, my dad said, grabbing my hand. I let him pull me towards and then up the steps through the door as I kept my eyes on Molly while I stepped up through the door onto the train.
The man in the blue uniform closed the door and turned the big handle thing so it made a clunk noise. The shiny floor underneath me wobbled and we all suddenly went backward. I almost fell down, but dad grabbed my arm to hold me up. I looked out the little window in the door and saw lights go by outside. We must be moving. All the grownups standing so closely around me, so I could just see the middle parts of their bodies, my mom and dad and the guy in blue, all seemed so much taller than I was. I wanted to be as tall as they were.
“Your roomette is upstairs and just down the hall”, said the man in the blue suit. “Follow me but watch your step!”
“Go on Coolie”, mom said, “You first!” David looked down at me from her arms. His eyes looked sleepy.
I grabbed the smallest suitcase, mom’s “traincase”, which Molly and I had carried from the car into the station, and started to walk.
“Let me take that for you, son.” The man in blue reached down and grabbed the handle that I was already holding. I wanted to carry it. I wanted to be helping, part of the team with all the grownups.
“I’ve got it”, he said, like that was something I wanted to hear. He pulled it upwards away from me, so I finally let go. “Follow me, son.” I wasn’t happy but I followed him and looked at his shiny black shoes clanking on the small stairway steps.
“Your next Liz”, dad said from behind me, “I’ll sort out all the baggage with the conductor.”
We walked down a small hallway with doors on either side. The man in blue was standing by an open door and was pointing to it with his hand. I looked in. There were seats kind of like a car on either side of the tiny room, but pointing towards each other. Between them was a big window looking out at the snow falling and trees and far away buildings on a hill going by outside with a sky getting dark behind.
Mom with David in her arms was behind me now. “Go on in Coop”, she said.
I stepped in and was drawn to that window. I sat on the seat by it and looked out. We were going on a bridge over a river and on the other side of it were giant buildings on a hill with all the windows lit up.
“So what ya think, Coolie?” Mom said, coming into the room behind me. “You like the big window and the view?”
I nodded but kept looking out.
“I thought you would”, she said. “Pretty exciting. Quite the adventure.”
Now outside trees rushed by close to the window. Sometimes between them I could see a house farther off with its lighted up windows. I wondered who was inside the houses and if they could see the train and me looking out at them.
Dad came in the compartment with one of the suitcases.
“Okay Liz”, he said, breathing out loud, “They’ll put the big suitcases and the box with the diaper pail plus the other box with the Christmas stuff in the luggage car. They said they’ll transfer them in Buffalo to our train to Binghamton.”
“Got it”, mom nodded her head. “So the things for overnight are in this suitcase. There’s got to be a place where we can put them so we can get them when the bed’s out?”
“The steward said there is a wardrobe in the wall”, dad said, “Right here!”
I turned to look. Dad opened a door in the wall and there was a space like a tiny closet. He put the suitcase on the seat next to me.
“Scooch over Liz”, he said, patting his hand on her leg. She moved over next to the window across from me. He sat next to her and opened the suitcase. I looked carefully at all the stuff that was in it, including pajamas, diapers, a white paper bag, and those clear glass bottles that David drank out of, each with some white powder in it. He took everything out and put it in the tiny closet. He said the white paper bag had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for “supper”, along with a few jars of food for David.
“We change trains in Buffalo in the middle of the night, and should be in Binghamton by early morning”, dad said.
“Dad said he would pick us up”, mom said.
I didn’t know what she was talking about, because dad was right here talking to her. Still, hearing this made me even more excited. We would also be on a different train too and it would take all night. This first train was pretty amazing. More like a long moving house than a giant car.
The man in blue knocked on the door to our room even though it was already open. He wanted to know when we wanted the bed “made up”.
“Your call Liz”, dad said, looking at mom.
“We might as well do it now”, she said. “Eric, do you want to take Coop for an explore of the train?”
Dad nodded. I nodded too. I wanted to see how the bed got “made” but I wanted to see the rest of the train even more!
Dad and I went out of the room and down the hallway. There were closed doors like ours on either side of us that looked like the door to our room. A few of the doors were open and I looked in and saw other rooms like ours or bigger rooms with beds on top of each other. It really was like a long moving house. Everything shook from side to side, but you kind of got used to it. It was fun to try to walk without having to touch the walls, and I found that if I rocked from side to side while I walked it was easier not to touch.
We got to the end of the hallway and there was a door in front of us with a window in it. Through the window you could see another door with a window that was moving all around. Dad pulled on the lever and the door slid open. Suddenly the train noises were much louder.
“Coop. This is the door from one train car to the next one”, he said.
I looked down and there was a shiny silver floor with bumps on it. There was a thin open part across the floor and the rest of the floor on the other side was shaking. The walls on either side were also shaking and looked kind of wavy. Dad stepped over the open part of the floor so he was up against the other door. He turned to look back at me.
“C’mon… step in!”
I hesitated. All the louder noise and rattling made me scared.
“It’s okay Coop… just step in!” He held out his hand.
I took it, but suddenly wondered if I was too small to do this and my dad hadn’t figured that out.
He pulled on my hand and it made me take a step through the doorway onto the bumpy silver floor on my side of the open part. I heard the door slide closed behind me with a bang. I could see that the floor that he was standing on was shaking differently than the part I was on. I could feel my body go from being very excited to suddenly very calm. My mind couldn’t think of anything except what was around me and the noise in my ears. It seemed a long time and then my mind started thinking again, and I thought of Tom Swift inside his spaceship.
Dad pulled the lever of the other door behind him and it slid open. He moved through the doorway and pulled me along with him. The door slid closed behind me and the loud noises were quieter. I felt like I was in a completely different place. There were people sitting at wooden tables and men in white shirts with black bows on their necks carrying plates of food. It looked and smelled like one of those places you went where you sat at a table and people brought you the food you wanted. But then I saw the windows looking out to buildings going by outside and it felt like the train again.
“This is the dining car”, dad said.
One of the men with the white shirts turned to us, glanced at me then looked at dad. “Two for dinner or just passing through?” he asked.
“Just passing through”, dad said, putting his hand on my shoulders and pushing me ahead of him. The floor wobbled under us and I could still hear the train noises from down there. We walked by people sitting at the tables and eating. It was mostly grownups, but there were two kids sitting next to each other with a grownup on the other side of the table. It was a boy and a girl, who looked older than I was. I was struck by their dark black hair and brown skin. Then the girl spoke words that I did not understand.
“Mama, hay otros niños en este tren!” She looked at me and smiled. The grownup woman sitting across from the girl turned her head and smiled at me too. Her hair was also black and her skin brown.
“Hello young man!” she said, “What is YOUR name?”
I opened my mouth but didn’t say anything. The way she said “your” confused me, like somebody else already had said their name, along with the girl saying all those words that I didn’t understand.
My dad patted my shoulder. “Su nombre es Cooper!” he said. I looked up at him. He was also saying words I didn’t understand, except for maybe my name at the end. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
“The children are speaking Spanish”, dad said to me. Then to them, “Hola, mama… niño”.
She turned to the children across from her and said, “Preséntense a Cooper ustedes dos!”
“Soy Ricardo”, the boy said, glancing at me with fierce eyes and then looking away.
“Y mi nombre es Sofia”, said the girl after him, she smiling.
“En inglés Sophia!” the mom said.
“Si”, said the girl to her mom, then looking at me, “My name is Sophia. Pleased to meet you Cooper!” Then she looked back at her mom.
“Muy buena Sophia!” she said, and then, “Very good!”
She turned to my dad and held out her hand. “I’m Beatrice. Good to meet you! You speak Spanish?”
“Solo un poco”, dad said, taking her hand and just sort of holding it instead of shaking. “I’m Eric. Good to meet you as well. I’ll let you get back to your dinner. This is my son’s first trip on a train and I’m taking him for a ‘tour’ of all the cars.”
“OH”, she said, “Quite exciting. I will let you two continue your ‘tour’! It was a pleasure to meet you both!”
“Let’s see”, dad said thinking for a moment. “El placer es nuestro!” he said, dipping his head.
She did a big smile. Red lips and white teeth. “That’s sweet of you!” she said, patting his hand with hers. Then asking, “Are the two of you… alone on your journey?”
Dad laughed just a little bit, then said, “No… my wife and Coop’s little brother are back in our sleeping compartment.”
“Ah, I see”, she said, somehow like that was not what she had wanted to hear. “Enjoy!”
“You too”, dad said, patting me on the shoulder and gently pushing me forward.
We walked by the other people eating to the end of the room where there was another door like the one that had taken us into this place. Dad pulled the lever to slide it open. Again the noise and the silver floor with bumps and the space between. But this time I knew what to do and followed him in without him having to pull me. The door slid closed behind me and he slid the next one open. I wondered what would be next.
We stepped into another long room with a shiny brown table thing on one side that was long and curved around with a bunch of tall chairs on one side and a man with one of those same white shirts and black bow things behind it. There was a man sitting across from him in one of the tall chairs stirring liquid in a funny shaped glass that looked like a “Y”. It had two small green ball shaped things in the liquid.
“This is the bar car”, dad said, “On our way back we’ll get some drinks to go with our sandwiches.”
The other part of the room had small round tables with just one part in the middle to hold them up and funny round chairs around them that did not have a back part. There were big windows looking out into the snowy night. As we walked through I could not stop looking out those windows. We were going by a giant building all lit up with tall tubes going up to the sky with white clouds coming out of them.
With each doorway to the next train car I felt like I was Tom Swift going from room to room in a spaceship. The rest of the cars we walked through had lots of seats full of people sitting but not in separate rooms like ours. We finally got to the end of the last car. There was a door at the very end like the other cars except dad didn’t try to open it. It had a window and we looked out at the dark railroad tracks shooting out from underneath us and going back into the distance until you couldn’t see them anymore. I could tell that dad liked looking out as much as I did.
After a while he said, “Well Coop, should we head back?”
I nodded quietly like I usually did, but then decided I wanted to speak too. “Yeah dad, let’s go back”, I said.
When we got back to the “bar” car dad got a cup of coffee for him, a Coke for me, Ginger Ale for mom and a big cup of water for David. The man behind the wood thing put them all in a cardboard box so dad could carry them. But I had to open the doors between the cars now. At the first one I grabbed the lever thing. It was cold and shiny and smooth. I pulled the thing okay but could not slide the door open until I figured out to stand by the side of the door and face the way I was pushing the lever.
“That’s it Coop, put all your weight behind it”, dad said.
Then I crossed over the open part where you could see the tracks below without dad holding on to me or even worrying about it and opened the other door that led back into the “dining car”. I saw the woman with the two kids that dad had talked to with those different words, that “Spanish”. I liked that she could see me opening the door to help my dad. This time, I thought to myself, I’m going to say something to her and not get shy like last time.
As we came close to them she smiled at me again with her red lips and white teeth. But this time I said something I remembered from before.
“Hola!” I said to her.
She laughed and put her hands together. “Hola de nuevo, Cooper” she replied, touching my shoulder with her fingers, the tips colored red, then looking up at dad, “Y tu papá!”
Dad stopped and smiled back at her. I could tell he liked talking to her and was thinking what to say.
“Espero que a ti y a los niños les guste tu viaje”, he finally said, in those different words.
“Oh… gracias señor, tú también”, she replied, and she took her fingers off me and touched his elbow, which he seemed to like a lot.
Dad let her touch his elbow and looked at her and smiled. It was a bigger smile than I had seen him do in a long time.
“I’d ask you two to join us”, she said, “But you probably should get back to your wife and baby.”
Dad nodded and stopped smiling and pushed his lips together. Finally he said, “Buenas noches señora”, looked down at me, and tilted his head to tell me it was time to continue our way back.
“Buenas noches señor”, she said as we started to walk.
I opened the last doors that took us back to the car where our room was. The whole little room was now just a bed. Mom was sitting on it with her legs folded and just her socks on her feet. David was sitting facing her, she was holding his hands. He saw me and dad and was smiling and making noises.
“Yes”, mom said to him, “Yes that’s your dad and your big brother Coop. They’re back from their explore.”
I was a “big brother”! The words sounded good.
Still holding David’s hands, mom looked at us and said, “Let’s eat, I’m starving!”
Dad handed her the box of drinks and she put it on a tiny table part by the window. Dad took the paper bag of sandwiches and took one out, all wrapped in silver foil.
“How are we going to do this?” he asked.
I was thinking that too. I had never eaten on a bed before.
“We’ll do it like a picnic”, mom said.
I decided I wanted to say something.
“Good idea”, I said. I had heard them say that to each other and to me many times. They both looked at me, then at each other, and laughed a little bit.
I climbed up on the bed and sat near the window. My dad took his shoes off and took mine off too. I looked outside into the night and could see we were up high looking down at houses with lights in the windows, streets with lights on poles, and cars driving with lights on the front. I could also see the reflection of my mom pulling David onto her lap and dad sitting legs crossed on the bed across from her. In the reflection, sitting like that, they looked more like kids than adults, floating like ghosts above the streets.
Dad gave mom and I sandwiches. David’s food was in little glass jars of brown and green, along with his bottle of white milk stuff. We ate and David drank his bottle sitting in mom’s lap, looking at dad but especially at me. As I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I wondered what David would say when he finally could talk. I wondered if he would want to play with me or just with my toys.
“Isn’t this exciting?” mom said, taking a bite of her sandwich after finishing her words.
“It sure is Liz”, dad said, “It was nice for George and Carrie to pay for our train tickets.” He took a big bite of his sandwich.
Mom swallowed then said, “Dad said it was our Christmas gift”. I couldn’t figure out who this other “dad” person was, since dad was right here on the bed with us.
Still chewing dad said, “We haven’t been back to Binghamton since Coop was a baby”, his words sounding a little funny.
“Eric”, mom said, “Don’t talk with food in your mouth!”
“Jeez Liz”, dad said, rolling his eyes and then looking at me like he was worried what I was thinking.
The train stopped at the big “Detroit” station where I could see and even hear out the window another train like ours with windows and people going in and out with their suitcases. I could hear even more other people out in the hallway part of our car talking and moving by the closed door to our room. I liked that we were in between them in our own special little place. Mom said it was “cozy”.
When the voices out in the hallway got quiet and the people outside the window with the suitcases were gone, the train jerked and started moving again. Mom said that pretty soon we would go through the “Windsor Tunnel to Canada”. She said it was kind of like a bridge, but instead of going over the river it went under it. I wondered if I would see the underwater part out the window with fish or even an octopus like in the Tom Swift story about his Jetmarine. But when we went into the tunnel, I pressed my face against the window but I could not see anything, except for a light flashing by every once in a while. When we came out the other side of the tunnel there were buildings and houses and roads and cars again, like before.
“We’re in Canada, Coop!”, mom said, “Another country!” I wondered what the first country was.
When we finished our dinner mom took David out of our room to change his diaper in the bathroom down the hall. Mom and dad had to figure that out because they didn’t have the diaper pail. When she came back with David we all got under the covers of the bed. I got to be by the window. Dad was next to me in the middle and mom on the other side, with David between them. Mom and dad had books they were reading. I liked us all being in the bed together.
I snuggled under the covers with my face right next to the window so I could see out. I couldn’t see very much, except for a house or a car every once in a while, but it was still exciting. It was interesting that the things far away moved slowly, but the things close to the train zoomed by quickly. I imagined I was Tom Swift, traveling in some ship I had invented. Dad said we were “crossing Ontario” and that it would be “all farms until Buffalo”.
Suddenly I heard the clang of bells, flashing red lights, plus the lights of a car out the window shining on us and then dark again and just the sounds of the train below us. I sat up and looked at mom and dad, not sure what just happened. Dad said it was just a place where a road crossed the train tracks, and the bell warned the cars to stop and wait until the train went by. I remembered being in our car when we drove toward the railroad tracks and the bells went off, the lights flashed and that long stick thing came down to block us from going across until the whole train went by. I realized I was seeing the crossing in a different way, because I was looking out from the train instead of from the car watching the train go by. It was so completely different!
The shaking of the train, the same shake over and over again, felt good, and made me sleepy. But whenever I closed my eyes, my mind was filled with thinking: about Tom Swift, about wishing Molly was with me, about what presents I might get for Christmas, about that woman and those kids that spoke those strange words like “hola” that dad spoke too. Then I would open my eyes again and look for things out the window. It all seemed to go on forever, but it felt good. At the same time “cozy”, like mom had said, but exciting too. This was a good adventure, cozy AND exciting.
I could tell mom was sleeping because she would make sleeping noises that I had heard before from their bedroom down the hall from mine, but now they were much louder because she was in the same bed I was. Dad was still reading a book, which was what he did a lot. His body was warm next to mine, compared to the cold on my nose when it touched the window.
I imagined what it would be like to be here on the train in a bed all by myself, or maybe with Molly lying next to me. I wondered if I would feel happy. I wondered if I would feel more happy than I was now.
I felt the train starting to jerk around some more. I could hear extra clanking noises underneath me as the train jerked from side to side. Suddenly those clanking noises changed, like the difference between the way things sounded in a big room rather than a small one. I looked down out the window and I could see water way below the train with big white things floating in it that looked sort of like clouds.
Dad was still reading and he said quietly, “We’re on the Peace Bridge going over the Saint Lawrence river into Buffalo”.
“What are those white things?” I asked.
Dad leaned over me so his head was next to the window and looked down.
“Icebergs”, he said, “Big chunks of floating ice in the water, like little floating islands or giant ice cubes.”
It was both scary and exciting to have train tracks going over the water. It was scary to think about if the train fell off the tracks, but exciting to think about if it did not fall. But the bed and our little room was cozy, and it was strange that it could be kind of scary, exciting and cozy all at the same time.
Finally there was no more water and just the regular ground again, but now everything was lit up and there were big square buildings with big windows that were made up of a bunch of tiny windows right next to each other. Now the train was jerking a different way to the side, and each time it did a new set of tracks came out from underneath.
Suddenly there was a whooshing noise and big lit windows really close to us zoomed by, each flashing a picture of the inside of a place with seats and people, like a building or a house, but just for a second, so there was a new picture before you could barely remember the last one. The whoosh and windows continued and then they stopped.
I turned and looked at my dad.
“That was another train going by”, he said. Mom was still making the sleeping noise.
Even though our room door was closed, I could hear someone walking down the train hallway making knocking noises and saying “Buffalo” over and over again. He knocked on our door but kept walking.
“Wake up Liz, we’re coming into Buffalo”, dad said.
Mom sat up in her part of the bed, her eyes not big and round yet.
“I’m going to take David down to the bathroom quickly and change his diaper before we deboard”, she said, rubbing her eyes, “Can you get out my coat, gloves and cap and get everything packed up and take care of Coop?”
“Sure, Liz”, Dad said. My mom stood up by the door and put a bag under her shoulder and then picked David up, him still in his pajamas that covered his whole body including his feet. Held in her arms, he looked around like he didn’t know what was going on, and started to cry. Mom kind of bounced him in her arms and talked to him quietly to get him to mostly stop. She opened the door and disappeared with David out in the hallway.
I was a bit mad because I wanted to help and take care of things too and not just be taken care of, but I didn’t say anything because I was so excited that I was going to now get off a train for the very first time, and then see how different it was outside, this “Buffalo” place.
The train kept jerking to the side, and looking out the window, more tracks came out underneath, and I could feel it slowing down. Dad told me to get off the bed so he could “stow” it. He and I stood next to each other in the little area between the bed and the door to our little room. He put his knee on the bed so he could reach across and make the tiny table turn upward. Then he reached under the bed and pushed it upward and it curved up and against the wall, and underneath were the seats we had been sitting on when we first were in this room. He pulled the suitcases out of the little closet thing and set them on the seat across from him, opening both of them. One was mom’s traincase. He opened the other bigger one with clothes and other stuff in it. He pulled out my jacket and told me to put it on. He did the same with his jacket. We put on our shoes but dad had to help me tie mine. I didn’t like that he had to help me.
Outside the window there was another train ahead that wasn’t moving, just across from us and people were standing outside our train looking at us, including some with those blue uniforms. Dad quickly put any of our stuff that was in the room into the bigger suitcase, then pushed it closed and did the click thing. He and I sat on the other seat looking at the two suitcases across from us.
“You want to carry the traincase?” he asked.
I nodded. I liked being able to help and not just be taken care of. We sat there next to each other and waited for mom and David to come back. It felt strange for my dad and I to be doing exactly the same thing.
My mom finally appeared outside the doorway with David in her arms.
“We’re back. Mission accomplished”, she said, her eyes now big and round and blue like they usually were. She gave David to my dad and looked around and found her shoes and put them on. I noticed they didn’t have laces like mine did. Then she put on her coat, pulled her cap down over her ears, then put each hand inside a glove. She took David back and said, “Shall we?”
Dad grabbed the bigger suitcase on the seat across from us, and I followed his lead and grabbed the train case with both hands, holding it in front of me. With mom and David in the lead, we exited the little room and slowly stepped down the little staircase to the bottom part of the train. I did okay carrying the case on the flat part, but I had some trouble taking the first step down the stairs, with the traincase in front of me pressing against the upper part of my legs. Dad, already starting down the stairs, reached back with one hand under it and I felt it pull away from me, letting my legs move easier, and I took the first step down. Slowly he and I went down the stairway that way until we got to the bottom. The four of us waited while others stepped through the door and down off the train.
The man with the blue uniform waved to us to go next. Mom went first, David in her arms, with the man in the blue uniform grabbing her arm to help her step down.
“Watch your step, ma’am”, he said.
“You next, Coop”, dad said.
I didn’t want him to, but as I moved towards the door holding the traincase with both hands in front of me, the man with the blue uniform took it from me.
“Watch your step, son”, he said, and grabbed my hand and helped me down the step to get off the train. The cold air made my eyes and the inside of my nose sting, then my ears too. Dad followed with the bigger suitcase held in front of him with one hand while the other grabbed the metal bar. The man in blue didn’t tell dad to watch his step. Once he was off the train, dad put it down, turned back, and the man in blue gave him the traincase. Dad then gave it back to me.
“Jesus, it’s freezing Eric!”, mom said, steam coming out of her mouth as she talked, “I know you’re a polar bear but”, and then looking at me, “Coop, are you warm enough in that jacket and without gloves and a hat?”
I felt really cold compared to the warm bed we’d all been just in, but I didn’t want them to do things for me so I nodded.
“Liz, why don’t you go ahead with David and get inside the station and see if you can confirm the train to Binghamton is leaving on time”, dad said, “And Coop and I will catch up with you.”
Mom nodded and turned and walked off with David on one shoulder and the bag hanging from the other. Dad and I started to follow her but more slowly. He was now holding the big suitcase in one hand so he could walk more easily. I started to walk and tried to do the same with the traincase but it was too heavy and made my hand hurt and made it hard for me to walk right.
Dad said, “Coop, do you want me to carry the traincase so we can walk faster?”
He reached for it with his empty hand. I shook my head and grabbed its handle again with both hands and held it in front of me and walked forward as best I could. My shoulders were hurting a little and all the top parts of my body stung from the cold, but I moved forward. Dad chuckled but he let me do it, and I knew he was walking extra slow so he didn’t leave me behind. Mom was way in front of us now and going up this walking part. It was weird. It went up but it didn’t have steps.
When dad and I got to it we started walking up too. It felt like I was going to fall over backwards so I had to lean forward a little as I walked. I felt dad’s hand just behind my shoulders. We seemed to walk up forever until we went into a building with no doors that was one long giant room with a top part way up high that looked like a roof rather than a ceiling. Mom and David were way ahead of us now, and we followed them and my shoulders and hands were hurting even more, though my face was feeling warm now instead of cold. We went through another part with just a top part but no walls at all. I looked over the side and realized it was a bridge with train tracks going under it. Finally we entered an even bigger building that had a roof that was so far up it made me dizzy to even look up at it. Mom was sitting in a big brown seat thing, that looked like a bunch of square chairs all stuck together. David was on her lap, and she waved at us. I suddenly felt really tired and could barely carry the traincase to where mom sat.
“Oh my god sweety, you carried it all this way?” she said, with her big smile and round blue eyes, “Good for you!” She patted the seat thing next to her. “Sit young man, you must be exhausted.”
I had heard that ‘exhausted’ word before and I figured it meant really tired, which I was. I put the case on the floor by her feet and sat in the seat and it was soft and made a squeaking noise. I looked all round the giant room. It was filled with other big brown chairs stuck together and there were a few grown ups here and there sitting in them. I only say one other kid like me, curled up in a chair with eyes closed. Around the sides of the room were places that looked like those places where you could get things to eat or books or those new paper things to read. The ones with grown ups standing next to them were all lit up, but the others, without grown ups, were not.
My eyes just seemed to decide to close. I heard my mom’s voice talking quietly to my dad about what was happening next. The words didn’t mean anything anymore. I was walking through a woods down a path following the person in front of me. He had an army gun hanging on his shoulder. I had one on my shoulder too. But we were just wearing regular clothes. As we walked, he turned to look back at me and said that I didn’t belong here, it wasn’t safe for me. I figured I was safe as long as we kept walking, and we did keep walking for a long time. Suddenly there were shooting noises and we were running away from the path. I had to run faster. Someone grabbed me.
“Coop, Coop, you need to wake up sweetie.” It was my mom’s voice. “We’re just getting into Binghamton.”
I was still in the soft seat, but it felt different. It had no side things to put your arms on. My head was resting on the top part of my mom’s leg which felt warm. I didn’t have an army gun anymore. I tried to open my eyes but they wanted to be closed.
“That’s it”, her voice continued, “Try to sit up.”
With my eyes still closed my mom’s hands helped me lift my head up. My seat was shaking from side to side and I could hear clanking noises below us with every shake.
“We’re finally here!”