All Aboard!

The sinister nature of “baggage” is most of us don’t even know we are carrying it around. We grow up in the families we have. What they do and don’t do is our basic standard for “normal” and what works at home is our basic guide for how the world works. Many of us get guides with whole passages blocked out or pages missing. The thing is, we don’t know that. In that case you could say some of our baggage got lost. All of this affects the choices we make everywhere — most painfully in the people we “choose” to love and the way we make important decisions. For example,  I “choose” to love men who need to be rescued and who cannot actually BE rescued. I also have a long history of making serious life decisions impulsively. Having figured this out I think the last person I should get involved with is someone with whom I “fall” in love. As for big life decisions? Ironically, I’m now listening to my mom’s advice, “Slow down!” and my dad’s advice, “Count the cost first, MAK!”

This baggage/coach from the D & RG railroads. Looks pretty old, right? In fact, when I was a kid, in the happy days of my childhood when my family was functioning well, I may have ridden in this exact car from Denver to Billings. The train was often only two cars and an engine. It carried mail, some passengers and their bags.  On the return trip from Billings to Denver, the train often stopped in Thermopolis, Wyoming to load more mail and add a sleeper car. Normally, there was no dining car, so as the railroad did its thing,  passengers went across the street from the depot to the diner in the Railroad Hotel for dinner.

My brother was six or so (in my memory), and he had refused to learn to read. My mom told him he could eat anything on the menu that he could read. My brother wasn’t stupid — and he was hungry. A quick scan of the wall behind the counter showed him he could have Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup. I, the good kid, ordered skillfully and got a hamburger. I remember asking my mom about the name of the town and learning that it came from the nearby hot-springs as well as from a battle between the Spartans and the Persians long ago. “Thermo mean’s hot, you know, like a thermos bottle with coffee. Polis means city,” she explained, that lover of history and of poetry.


At Christmastime, the train was, naturally, a lot longer and we carried more suitcases. Most of it went “in the back with the baggage” but one small suitcase went with us to “the seats.” This little suitcase contained Christmas goodies for “the folks” but also the sweet, white popcorn balls my mom made ONLY at Christmas with Karo Syrup and butter. They looked like snowballs. I have sweet memories of leaning against my mom’s shoulder while she read us stories, the train rocking gently, snow falling outside and my grandmother standing on the platform at the end of the ride.

My brother and I were lucky in those days. We had a mom who was well educated and patient with us; a mom who really wanted us to live in a larger world. When my brother and I were small, before life and fate had twisted her, she was a great mom, and with her we crossed and recrossed some of the most beautiful and wildest land in the United States. After having taught 10,000 kids whose moms never told them about Thermopolis and never took them across wild Wyoming, I deeply appreciate my good fortune. Along with dark, heavy, ugly and inscrutable baggage I also carry a suitcase filled with popcorn balls and Christmas cookies “for the folks.” This is the one I will take with me to “the seats.”

Suitcases left on the platform:

Daily Prompt: Baggage Check or Where have all the blogs gone?

7 thoughts on “All Aboard!

  1. really beautiful post – and your momma sounds like a nice lady – in addition to being so smart. 🙂 The ride from denver to billings sounds very cool – I have only been to Cheyenne and would love to see more of Wyoming – and that whole area.

  2. All that part of the country is very beautiful. 🙂 Cheyenne is quite a place; I’ve been there several times, too (of course since the train goes through it…)

  3. Martha, this is a delightful glimpse into your wonderful childhood, and a snippet of your adult life. I really enjoyed reading with you on your train journey, thank you!

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