Friday, September 28, 2007

Chicago Journals: The Prologue

The trip started off with a very late train and tears, not in that order, so I might have expected that the trip was destined to nothing short of painful. But it was an excellent trip and one that has converted me to Sage's love of trains and traveling aboard them. I was only gone for three days but I have two weeks worth of blogging in my head. That is if I can get most of them out into the computer before I file them into depths unknown. So I'll try my best starting with the beginning.

Since the train station is about 30 miles due east of where I live and my grandparents, a.k.a. Little Abbey's babysitter for the next three days, live 50 miles to the southwest, we decided to drive down there Monday night. Our train left at 1!:00 on Tuesday and doing all that math, it would have meant getting up very early and not being able to allow Little Abbey time to adjust to her new surroundings before we left it we did it all on Tuesday so by staying the night on Monday, it gave her almost 12 hours to adjust.

The next morning after breakfast, we were deciding the best way for us to leave and thought that maybe sneaking out would work. I crouched on the floor and Little Abbey came running over to me to lean in-between my legs resting her arms on my knees like she always does. My heart was breaking fast and as I hugged her I had to work hard to fight off the tears. She ran over to the other side of the room for something and I quickly slunk out into the kitchen and outside. When I started up the car and drove around to the front, my wife was leaning against the door sobbing as well. It was our first time to leave Little Abbey behind and it was much harder than either of us had suspected. Funny how something like that can come into your life and change it.

We drove back home, threw on a change of clothes, put our small carryon bags into the back seat and headed off to the train station. We stopped at a deli on the way to pick up some sandwiches for the trip and were at the station about 50 minutes early. It was a good thing because the train ended up being over 90 minutes late and waiting is always much better when you have a full stomach.

We had good entertainment while waiting for the train in the little station with six other passengers. One was a lady probably my age or a little older who was obviously a welfare care. From the moment she walked in and told the attendant some elaborate story about whose credit card she had bought the ticket with since all her cash had been stolen the night before, she couldn't get accepted for a credit card herself, and she would just have to work out some way to pay her friend back when she got back.

She came with two elderly people who weren't her parents from what I gathered from her loud conversations with them and I never did figure out the relationship. She spent her whole time with them telling her woes and how she only had $50 a week to live on in-between breaks every ten minutes to go outside and smoke a cigarette or purchase another $5 pack from the vending machine. Seems like she might have another $50 a week to live on if she just ditched the cancer sticks. For the next two and a half hours, I listened and bit my tongue as she extolled the virtues of cigarette smoking and how many other things caused more deaths than smoking, including cars, beer, drugs, walking downtown, riding a bicycle and the list went on and on in Forest Gump like fashion. Many hours later I almost lost it when as we were pulling into the train station in Chicago I unmistakably heard her voice from the back of the car saying trains killed more people than smokers every year.

I never tired of listening to Cancer Woman list things deadlier than cigarettes but fifteen minutes before the train arrived, she bid her elderly companions goodbye so that she could go outside and smoke until the train came. So I went to the magazine rack to find something to read but found magazines that were published way back in March of 2004. In fact, the newest magazine was July of 2005. It was even worse than the dentist office and I didn't think that was possible. I opted to walk around the station reading the literature up on the walls until finally at 12:30, the California Zephyr all the way from San Francisco came barreling down the tracks and ground to a halt. My wife and I stepped onto a train for our first time.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Stories of Iowaville

Iowaville used to have a grocery store right on main street but it has probably been gone for twenty-five years now. The Thomas family who lived on a small farm just north of town away ran Thomas Grocery. Even back when it was in its prime, it was a small grocery store just carrying the basics and a small deli. The nearest fully stocked grocery store was over thirty miles away and so we often came here to get a few items to carry us through until our next big grocery trip which occurred once every two or three weeks.

Thinking back of Thomas Grocery, three memories come to mind. When in the fields during the spring or fall, we often would swing through town to get some homemade sandwiches made at the deli in the back of the store. The bread was always thicker than regular pre-sliced bread always held thick slabs of whatever meat you wanted cut right there in front of you on a slicer. The cheese too was slab like and cut on the slicer. Although it has been a quarter of a century since I ate one of their sandwiches, I wouldn't be surprised to have weighed one and found that each sandwich topped one half pound.

Of course what would a good sandwich be without an ice-cold pop in a ten-ounce bottle. These were stored right next to the deli in one of those old chest freezers with rails in it that suspended the pop bottle by the neck in a row. You put your quarter (if memory serves me correct) into the slot and the grippers would release allowing you to slide the last bottle in the row out to a circular opening. The top could be popped with the hanging bottle opener attached to the side. Pop was at its best when it came from a cold glass bottle. The glass bottle hung on in our area until I was late in my college career thanks to a kick from the recycling fad but eventually it was replaced with its plastic bottled and not as good tasting cousin.

My final memory occurred at the checkout counter that was just that, a counter near the entrance of the store. No scanners and no cash registers, only an accounting calculator with paper tape. Life was more leisurely back then so even if there was a crowd (i.e. one other person in the store besides the owner), we never minded waiting to check out. We always knew the other person and the Mr. Thomas of course new everyone so we would usually chat as he rang up the total and bagged the groceries. With every purchase, he would slip a little television guide booklet into one of the bags. Since my family didn't own a television, I wasn't too concerned with what was in the guide but loved the back cover that would contain a crossword puzzle.

After getting home and unloading the groceries, I would grab my pencil and start in solving the puzzle. I would pencil in the answers and sometimes have to carefully erase them when I later discovered I was wrong being careful not to erase the background ink forming the puzzle boxes and numbers. After I did all that I could, I would start with the dictionary and encyclopedias trying to fill in the rest of the answers before the next puzzle came out the following week with the answers to this week. I suppose I was successful 80% of the time and always enjoyed learning the answer to the clue or two that I missed one out of every five weeks.

Thomas Grocery used to bag up groceries from lists submitted by elderly people in town and deliver them right to the home once a week, right down to the preferred brand or quantity size. So when the grocery store finally closed down to its customer base (mostly farmers) going bankrupt and moving to larger towns, the town elders perhaps missed it the most. It is just one more building on a main street full of them that now contain only memories