Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Personal Peace (06/01/06)
TITLE: Whistlestop Peace
By Gini Branch
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I had answered that question forty seven times. I smiled, said “Fine.” and tried to change the subject. That didn’t take much. Something like “Aren’t you going to Hawaii on yours?” did the trick, except for the most persistent inquirers.
My vacation hadn’t been fine. It hadn’t work out the way I planned at all. I was embarrassed by not going and doing exotic things, or even visiting distant relatives. I had spent much of my time disappointed and bored, except for one day that missed the mark for boring. Well, maybe there were two. One of them was mundane, pleasant. Had to do with gardening. The other, however, caught me off guard completely. I visited the past, or somewhere I’ll call the past. Don’t think that’s possible? I didn’t either, but it happened.
The day was the 150th anniversary run of rail passenger service between a two towns in Pennsylvania. The train rocked along the old rails, soot, smoke and all, for about an hour. I watched the emergency brake cord sway like a pendulum. It kept time with the clack of the wheels. Folks waved as we passed them along the way and we’d wave back. A small crowd welcomed us at the station. The town is tiny, so it was really a large crowd for them, I suppose. Several of the women from the Historical Society dressed in 1900ish costumes. They looked hot and tired already, especially the one wearing shoes that matched her outfit. The gravel along the rails insulted her soles with each step. She smiled for us, though, and posed for pictures. A ragtag contingent came dressed as a Civil War era color guard. Probably more authentic looking than I knew. The VFW and the Scouts supplied our lunches. The food was good and I was hungry.
So what’s the big deal? I’m still waiting for the fun to begin. I missed the welcoming ceremony while I was off eating. I had climbed around in the old switch tower, which had no switches, by the way, but the view from the top attracted the camera buffs. I had trailed along with a walking tour to an old icehouse, a circa 1910 replica. Amazingly, there was still ice from the January 2006 “harvest”. Odd, since the temperatures had been above freezing for months now. In fact, it was in the mid 80’s that day. Not bad for an old wooden shack.
I’m hot and getting sunburned, too. Lovely time. The tour returned to the station house where the passengers milled around, bought souvenirs, and talked. Then something began to happen and not just to me. Sousa marches filled the air. Occasional hymns were interspersed with the marches. They had played before, but now I can hear them. The national anthem played. The crowd hesitated momentarily for it. America the Beautiful followed the anthem, then Taps, I nearly cried, and finally The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The people sat eating ice cream, visiting in the shade beneath the canopies. Laughter. Children played nearby. Parents guided them across the track to see an ancient fire truck that the local fire company had on display. Then I noticed no one had a cell phone or Ipod© attached to his ear. The kids hands were empty, no Gameboys©. Not one anywhere. Community happened. The afternoon had broadcasted peace, like the sowers of old, generously. It was the kind of peace moviemakers tried to portray in the The Music Man. A time of Sunday church and picnics on the grounds, evenings when families gathered around the band pavilion in the town park. Fresh lemonade. Yes, I had stepped into another realm, and I liked it. Peace prevailed, but a kind that I couldn’t explain by nostalgia alone. This peace had other origins. I liked it, and had never experienced it before. It took root in my heart.
The old steam engine’s old whistle tootled, the conductors took their places and the time to return home came all too soon. I returned to the start point, but a part of me stayed behind in the other realm. I plan rejoin it and settle there permanently, someday.
“How was your vacation?” someone else asked.
“I’m still there and loving it.” is my answer now. I get quizzical looks as I try to describe the day. Maybe someday they’ll understand. I hope so.
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