All Aboard

Union Station was a dark, grandiose, Gothic, high vaulted ceiling, floor- tiled palace. The building said that going on the train was a significant, impressive event. Smoke billowed and loud train whistles blew.

Pop Hiebel, Dad’s partner in Pineview Manor, Home for Handicapped Children, had brought his car to join Mammaw’s Chevy in carting the 7 suitcases, 2 large trunks and 2 smaller trunks to the station. We were carrying not only clothes but housewares (including the iron skillets!).

At the station, an obliging porter piled all our baggage onto a railroad cart. Amazed at the volume, he kept shaking his head and saying “Uhmm um. Uhmm um.” We bought Tootsie Rolls, Sugar Daddies and M&Ms at the news stand. I had already secreted away a supply of lemon drops from Mammaw. The boys were so excited that I was sent to the restroom with them, but nobody had to pee. Frowning J.W. had his thumb in his mouth and was humming loudly in self-defense. He did that a lot anyway.

On the platform, Pop Hiebel removed his cigarette from his mouth and graciously doffed his hat to Mom. She leaned her face over for him to give her a kiss on the cheek. He said to take care and give his regards to Ted, tell him to try not to disable too many airmen. I registered that they were actually called “Guardsmen” but had learned long ago never to contradict Pop.

Mammaw hugged me tight and long. We were both crying. Mom pointed, “Get the boys!!” Bill & Dodson were chasing each other at the end of the platform, whooping it up. Definitely not the proper behavior in public. I raced down the way, grabbing both their hands. Jerking their arms up straight, I whispered “Behave, both of you! Remember what Mom said. No running. Stay with us! That goes for the whole trip.” Mom had spent most of breakfast laying out to them the Rules of the Road. Grinning, they both nodded, already Pavlovianly trained in call-and-response. I was to repeat this constantly for the next year – on French roadsides, in Swiss alps, Roman ruins, Pompeiian alleys. “No running! Stay with us!”

Mom and Mammaw were murmuring together, J.W. standing close to Mom, like a wary puppy. Bampaw did his version of you-boys-obey-your-mother to Bill and Dodson. He then turned to the conductor, who looked ready to call all aboard. Bampaw pulled out a fiver and gestured to Mom, saying that this lady was his little girl and these hooligans were his treasured grandbabies. So he’d appreciate it if they were taken good care of. The conductor nodded solemnly, touched his cap, took the bill and “Yassuh.”

He then stood tall and called out “ALLL ABOOOARD!” We did a last round of hugs and scrambled on the train. In the car, the porter reversed one seat by releasing a catch and flipping the back of that seat over. Now the two seats faced each other. He smiled at Mom. “So you can keep better track of yore chillren.” Mom smiled in response and thanked him.

I took a window seat and pulled the window down. At this early hour, there were only a few people waiting to see the passengers off. Most all the folks were on the train. Mammaw and Bampaw were standing close together. They were accustomed to my Uncle Luther’s travels, he was in the Navy. But indeed Mom was their baby girl. They had argued with her long & hard about how crazy this trip was: pulling the children out of school, Ted was only going to be gone another 7 months, it was illegal, there was no place for us to live on the base, etc. etc.

But Mom was stubborn as the day is long. This was their ONE chance to see Europe! This was an adventure she was not going to miss. She just shook her head and said that she was going, come hell or high water (we experienced both in France). Bampaw finally had agreed to watch over our house, the renters and our cars.

Thin, dapper Bampaw put his arm around wide Mammaw’s shoulders. As the train began to ease out of the station, he lifted his hat high. Mammaw began waving her lace handkerchief. All of us on the train waved back, then Mom and the brothers settled into their seats. I continued to wave. They got smaller and smaller but continued to wave until the train went around the bend.

That was the last time I saw Mammaw. By spring the 6 of us were living in a 4 person trailer behind the squadron hospital at Dreux AFB, France. On Feb. 14th during a Jackson Hospital stay, Mammaw died. Now, many decades later, the taste of her fried chicken comes back to me.

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