I could feel a rush of nervousness and excitement wash over me as I stepped through the double doors into the Cleburne train station. I’ve traveled many times, many different ways. This, however, would be a first. I would be riding a train. Not a subway, not a tourist-geared steam train. A real passenger train. And, not only that, this would be my first trip alone. No mom, no dad, no brother. Just me.
I blinked in surprise as I stepped into the station. It was empty; totally empty. To be honest, I don’t know why I was so surprised. It’s not like Cleburne, Texas is a popular tourist destination, but I expected to see someone there. The empty room echoed as my family friend and her two little boys entered with me.
I set my belongings down on one of the benches and went up to the window to ask about paying for my ticket, for which I already had a reservation. The lady at the counter told me I would pay for it once I got on the train. With that I sat down and glanced around at my surroundings. Old, black and white pictures lined the walls: remnants of a different day and age. A pair of display cases presented relics of the past: old lanterns, conductors hats, and various other odds and ends. I listened to the echos that rang through the room as the two boys with us set off to look at the stuff in the display cases. I could almost imagine the station filled with a dozen or so travelers, old, hard-cased luggage in hand. Well, who knew if Cleburne had ever seen that many people at one time, but my imagination took the idea and ran with it.
I laughed when, half an hour later, the oldest of the two boys began to ask how much longer it would be until the train arrived. He wanted to leave and he couldn’t do that until I got on the train and his mom took him back. I could tell both boys were getting bored.
“Do they like kids books?” I asked their mom as she tried to quiet the boys down.
“Yes,” she replied. “They love them.”
I reached into my backpack and pulled out a little Japanese and English children’s book called “Too Many Pears” and handed it to her. They read it through several times before the younger boy brought it back to me.
He grinned like only a 4-year-old can and said, “That was a funny book.”
I chuckled and nodded, “Yes, it sure is.”
It was some time before I finally took my stuff outside and set it on the bench. Just a few more minutes and the train would arrive at the station. Then there! A whistle echoed in the distance. The next thing I knew, it had come to a stop in front of the station. I waved good-bye to my friends, then set out toward the train.
It wasn’t much different from what I had seen in the movies. A door opened on the side of one of the cars and two of the staff members stepped out to help people on and off the train. I had quite the time finding a seat, since all the window seats were taken and I’m rather shy, so finding a seat next to someone wasn’t easy. At last I settled down in a seat next to a lady who appeared to be in her late forties or early fifties. She was curled up with a book and hardly noticed me, looking up only to say that I could sit next to her. Soon I had paid for my ticket and the train set off.
I settled down, glancing out the window to watch the scenery. Slowly the town began to disappear, trading asphalt streets and modern buildings for open pasture land and well-tended fields. It was almost like stepping back in time. Okay, so the Wild West trains probably didn’t have air conditioning, but you get the idea. I settled back in my seat and pulled out my “Lord of the Rings” book. I made it through about two pages, then gave up. I was too interested in what was going on around me.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t realize how much open country still remained in Texas. But there it was, spreading out before me. Thick clusters of trees grew between pastures full of cattle and fields of corn and maize that stretched out to the very edge of the horizon. Here was a pasture full of longhorn cattle. There was an old farmer closing a gate, sporting the classic plaid shirt and jean overalls.
I couldn’t help but think of home as these scenes passed before my eyes. I grew up on a farm. Some of our church members used to plant large fields of sweet potatoes across the little dirt road that ran in front of my grandparents’ place. When I was small, we’d always go and gather the sweet potatoes left behind after our friends had finished harvesting their crop. Growing up, there wasn’t much between my country home and the few little towns that stood between us and Austin, the big city. There were no big, modern neighborhoods along the road back then. Just corn, maize, and cotton fields and open pasture land. It wasn’t that way now, however. Where there had once been trees and open fields there now stood gas stations, shopping centers, and neighborhoods. Concrete, not grass, now reigned supreme.
With that thought, I put on my headphones and began listening to my music. Songs such as “Forgotten Land”, a song I wrote for my book The Secret of Erris and “Get Off of My Back” from the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron played in my ears. No, I didn’t specifically select those songs for the ride. They just ironically played in that order.
The trip went smoothly and I spent most of my time relaxing, enjoying the scenery, and putting together what I wanted to put in my blog post. After all, my mom had told me my grandparents would be picking me up in Austin, so I had a while to go.
One by one, the train came to its various destinations, putting me ever closer to home. Then, at last, we came to one final stop. Austin would be coming up next.
I was checking my phone battery, which was getting quite low, when I began to notice something. The conductor was announcing that the train was about to leave, and he had already announced this once. Strange. Were they waiting for someone? Just then my phone rang. It was Grandma.
“Hello?” I answered, trying to be quiet and not disturb the people around me.
“Hey,” came my grandmother’s voice. “Where are you?”
“Taylor,” I replied.
“Well then get off! We’re here!”
“Wait a minute!” I exclaimed. “Mom told me you were meeting me in Austin!”
“Well, she told us to meet you here!”
Frantically I grabbed my stuff and headed for the stairs that I thought I had come up. The doors at the bottom were closed. No, that couldn’t be it. I hurried back up the stairs to try and find the right exit. One way was the dining car. The other…no, that wasn’t it either. I felt the train begin to move.
Oh, God, please help me find my way off this stupid thing!
Just then one of the other passengers, a young woman, pointed to the stairs and said, “That’s the way out.”
I trudged back down the stairs. The doors were still closed.
Oh, boy! Here we go!
Not sure if I was getting off on the correct side or not, I grabbed the door handle and thrust the door open. There was grandpa, talking to the two crew members who had let me on. I closed the door and, shaking nervously, trudged across the gravel on the side of the tracks to where they were waiting.
“Didn’t you hear us call the stop?” one of the crew members asked as I came up.
If I have ever blushed in embarrassment, it was then.
“I’m sorry,” I replied. “I thought my mom told me my stop was in Austin.”
They told me it was ok, went inside, and shut the door. A moment later, the train was on its way. I felt sick with embarrassment. Not only had I held up the train but I had all those people staring at me as I trudged back and forth in the car, looking like an idiot since I couldn’t figure out how to get off.
It was some time after I had gotten in the car and begun the journey home that I finally calmed down enough to clear my head and think straight.
Okay, God. I thought to myself, running a hand over my face. I do like to write interesting blog posts, but you could have left this one out.