It was the summer of 1952, when Mama took us with her to visit Uncle Buddy in Tennessee. I was seven and excited as all-get-out to be riding the train for the first time.
Pop took us to Union Station in Cincinnati, where sights I’d never seen before and smells I’d never smelled before enveloped me as soon as we stepped into the building.
Hot dog vendors pulled their mustard-laden sticks over the tops of juicy footlongs, slathered on a heaping spoonful of chili, and handed the sloppy dogs to the hungry people waiting in line. My mouth watered.
A group of exotic looking girls, dressed in long, colorful robes, wore veils across their faces and pushed past us to whoosh into a shiny black cab, which hunkered close to the sweeping curb of the driveway. Everywhere people were rushing and hurrying, and we were no exception.
Pop gave us a quick goodbye kiss and pointed to the track, where the great sleek train crouched, ready to receive us into its belly and whisk us away from all things familiar.
“Hurry, Children. The train’s about to leave.” Mama tugged us along beside her, causing my pink overnight case to bump painfully against my shins. My brand new Mary Jane’s were slick as spit on the soles; I watoosied across the marble floor of the station, each foot sliding away from me before I could finish the stride. My sister and I exchanged timid glances as the huge beast we hurried toward, sat grumbling on its rails.
The uniformed conductor rushed to us and helped us up the steps and onto the train.
“Whew! We made it, Girls!” Mama exclaimed. She blew her bangs off her face and looked over at us with a wide grin. “This’ll be fun!” We found two empty seats facing each other and flopped onto their padded laps.
We ate our dinner as the train steadily rolled its way over the Kentucky mountains and slid down the steep valleys into Tennessee. When the overhead lights blinked on, the windows instantly became black mirrors, their mysterious panels reflecting our white faces.
“Mama, what’s Uncle Buddy like?” my sister asked.
“Well, now. What’s Uncle Buddy like?…hmm…he’s tall, like Grandpa was, and mighty rich, I can tell you that. And…he has a big house and lots of land…and…well…he’s just Buddy, I guess. You’ll see.” Her cheeks flushed pink and she bit her lip as she stared out at the dark shadows beyond the blank windows.
“Is he nice?” I continued.
“Yes...I think you could say he’s nice. Yes, I surely think you can say he’s nice.” But her face showed doubt, so I persisted.
“You told Papa he was a rat, Mama. Remember? You told Papa that when you got the letter. Remember, Mama?”
“Corinne! Now, you know nice girls don’t eavesdrop. Shame on you!”
“Well…you did say it,” I insisted under my breath.
She glanced at us as she propped her chin on her fists and her elbows on the tabletop. She sighed.
“Uncle Buddy did make me mad. I’ll allow as how I got steamed when I read what he’d done.”
“What, Mama?” Shirley asked. Her brows furrowed over her oval face; I knew she was worried about Uncle Buddy, and so was I.
“Well…” Mama whispered. She watched the blurred scenery we sped past. “He sold the farm,” she explained softly. Tears gathered in her eyes and she quickly swept them away. Still looking out the black mirrors, she sighed again. “I wanted to help pay the back taxes…but…Buddy wouldn’t wait…wouldn’t let me help.” Mama looked at us, her face tight.
“I grew up on that farm, Girls! It meant the whole world and all to me…I never would’ve let him handle all that if I’d known what he was meaning to do,” she emphasized, her dark eyes shining. She sniffed and pulled out her handkerchief, dabbing the tears off her cheeks. “But…well…it’s all said and done, now. Can’t change a thing.” She shook her head, and then put on a bright smile once more.
“So! We are just going to go and see it…one last time! Won’t that be fun? I can show you my old room…and the barn…and all the places that I grew up around. Why, I guess it will be just like old times!”
Her smile had a sad tip to it, and she repeated, as she turned her face to the deep, dark night, “Won’t that be fun?”
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