A Traveler's List
Sometime before the New Year, an assortment of relatives would pay a visit to Grandpa's house. One brought a Great Dane who "woofed" the entire evening. One brought a terrible pumpkin pie we pretended to like.
They all brought with them their little quirks and quaintnesses - one Great Aunt with the hearty boom of a laugh, the other with the timid voice of a little mouse; the salesman son-in-law who smelled of cigars, and his wife with the (hush!) peroxide hair.
Some of them would gather around the dining room table and amid the smoke swirls of cigarettes and cigars, play poker. A few would sit in the living room and chat in low whispers.
The Railroad Man
One relative always had the kitchen to himself - Uncle Rob. He was an old, thin man, not too tall, with a craggy set of eyebrows that seemed to scowl at everyone. A man of few words, he entered and quickly made himself "to home."
Every year a huge Virginia ham was placed on a white towel on the porcelain top of the kitchen table. Uncle Rob brought a paper-wrapped bottle of whiskey. Grandpa would put a shot glass on the table, and Uncle Rob would rummage in the "silverware" drawer to find a nice sharp knife. If he wasn't satisfied with the sharpness, he would pull out the sharpening block from the back of the drawer and proceed to hone the knife to Toledo Blade sharpness.
He would then sit down, cross his legs and proceed to enjoy the evening in his own way. He wore high-button shoes with authority, gaiters to hold up his stockings, and suspenders to hold up his pants. White shirt was year-round, tie optional.
He sat there the entire evening, paring off a slice of ham, chewing reflectively, and then taking a sip of whiskey from the shot glass. Pare, eat, sip, pare, eat, sip.
Off To Bed
I tried to stay interested in everything, moving behind the card players to figure out their hands, but the players cleared their throats loudly, so I moved into the living room. Great-grandma and her sister had been murmuring family secrets which they were not interested in divulging to me, so then I wandered into the kitchen.
Uncle Rob peered at me over his wire-rimmed spectacles, decided I was a very unlikely family member, and continued to pare, eat, sip.
So it was an early bedtime for me, with the voices of the poker players filtering under the bedroom door upstairs.
In the morning, a faint, nimbus smoke-cloud of jollity still hung about the kitchen ceiling. The white bone of the skeletonized ham was resting on the table. Beside it, the whiskey bottle sat, respectably empty.
The Railroad Calendar
A new addition to the familiar setting, though, was the Railroad Calendar for 1948, hanging on a nail on the kitchen wall, huge and glossy. Uncle Rob, the fortunate employee of the railroad, had left his annual Christmas present.
The Railroad Calendar was my first introduction to travel-my Michelin, my Lonely Planet, my Triple A.
January had a silver bullet of a train zipping across the Western plains, with mesas as backdrop. February had glossy black and red engines passing one another on a skyscraper curtain of metropolis. March had a gigantic passenger train climbing into the mountains amid blue-green forests.
Page after page, I watched the months and seasons pass in other places-faraway places-with fortunate persons sitting in train seats and dining cars, and sleeping in little curtained cubbyholes while the train took them to destinations just like the scenes on the calendar. "Where are you going?" I asked the trains, turning the pages over and over.
Wanting to be the traveler on the train, sleeping in the little cubbyhole, eating in a dining car with white cloth napkins and watching the states slide by my window, was the wish of my young heart. It didn't matter the destination-just to be going was enough.
Dreams and Wishes
Wishes do come true. The chance to travel to far-off places did happen. Adventures I never could have imagined went from dream to reality. They say travel is broadening--a traveler learns how and what to pack, and what to leave behind.
A traveler learns to watch the wallet and the credit card. A traveler learns to appreciate new accents, new tastes and new sights. Small talk on a plane becomes a learning experience as cultures meet, then move on to other destinations.
But travel can also be frantic and frenetic. Missed exits, cancelled flights, boring meals and long delays can make the tired traveler ask, "Where am I going…and why?"
Before me is a brand new calendar for the year 2007. There is no train blazing across a landscape on this one-Uncle Rob, his railroad calendars and the nimbus-filled room of smoke and laughter are long gone.
This is another calendar, and I am writing on it the birthdays, anniversaries, meetings and events for the coming year. Already the months are filling up with Things To Do and Don't Forgets.
In a way, my calendar is the road map for the coming year; but it could as well be my New Year Resolutions because as I turn each page, each month of the coming year I anticipate with awe and joy, I ask myself the same old question.
I ask myself, "Where are you going?" and I am forced to find answers to that question. I am going into the future, with all the unanswered questions of the past year still waiting to be answered, with problems still unsolved, with uneasy solutions to others.
I am going into the future less flexible, less spry, less sharp-eyed. I am going into the future leaving behind memories of some who will not be coming with me. It may be frantic and frenetic and I may miss some exits but nevertheless, I am going.
I have learned what to pack: enthusiasm, curiosity, interest. I have learned what to leave behind: anger, regrets, and shoulda-woulda-couldas. There are new things to experience, and old things to appreciate.
There is a nail in our kitchen waiting for the new calendar to be hung. Welcome, 2007! Where am I going? Wherever and whatever…bring it on!
Blessings to all for the New Year as you discover Where You Are Going.
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