I listened to their early morning bustling as they prepared to head out to New York City for the day. Hats, gloves, and warm coats were pulled out as they gathered everything they would need for a long day in the cold city. The weatherman said it should get up to a whopping, wonderful, warm temperature of 43 degrees today, but we know how the weatherman can lie. Besides, the ride on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty will be mighty cold, especially in the brisk winds of December. So, they left with all their gear, nervous about what the day held, excited to explore a place that is gigantic and unlike our little town of Wallingford. We know crowds and traffic here in town, but Alaina will get the experience of her lifetime today, seeing the buildings, yellow taxi cabs, people, World Trade Center Memorial, people, the Statue of Liberty, and more people. It has been over eight years since Alaina went to New York. I was pregnant with Benny at the time, VERY pregnant, and it was quite the challenge walking those streets with my huge belly, the size of Minnesota as I often called it. Susy and Auntie Mickey also came along on the trip and we went to visit the American Girl store, where they got their Itty Bitty Babies. It was a fun day, but Alaina does not remember any part of it except the train ride and sitting at the table with the dolls in high chairs as we ate lunch. So this will be a completely new experience for my almost fourteen year old daughter.
So, I said goodbye, heard the truck drive away, and then the tears came pouring out of my eyes. Tears of joy mixed with tears of sorrow. Joy for the fact that Alaina and her daddy can go out and spend the day together, laughing and building memories that I hope she will hold close to her heart and treasure forever. Things will happen today that only they will be able to laugh about, to connect with, to carry as an inside joke that only the two of them will understand. Tears of joy also flowed for the memories that I hold near and dear about my own Dad taking me out on day trips like this that are forever etched in my mind. The early morning preparations were always hard for me, seeing that I was not a morning person and always felt quite ill for a while after getting up. That feeling always evaporated away along with the dewy mist after the sun came out to dry up the grass.
Tears of sorrow came also, because I knew that what I once had is gone and I will never have another day with Dad. Tears of being on the other side of the spectrum - growing up, leaving home, being the responsible one and not the child, of being the mom, the spectator, the one who has to say goodbye and watch them go and make those memories....it is all another side to the story. A story my mom must have read so many times during my lifetime. Yet, she never complained. She knew what it meant to my dad to tie those heartstrings with his six children, so she smiled, waved goodbye, and watched time and time again as the children took day trips (and sometimes overnight camping trips) just to spend special time with Dad every year. It was something he took pride in. He started it when I was about five years old, when we went to the IBM park to swing, and then watched the planes land at the airport, and finished with a meal at Lums restuarant. It was our yearly custom, to pick a place or two that we wanted to go, and he would plan and save for it until finally it was time and off we went. We called it our day with dad. I found it heart touching that each one of my siblings who spoke at his memorial service recounted those special times like they were highlighted with a big, yellow marker on their hearts.
I think this one particular trip hits a chord with me because of the fact that Joe and Alaina are taking the train down to the city. The train...I remember it all so clearly, like it was only yesterday. Standing on the platform next to my dad, waiting for the conductor to tell us to get on. We were on our way up to La Ronde in Canada, to spend a day at the aquarium and amusement park. It was early, and I had had one of those mornings where I thought I would not make it because my stomach felt so queasy and yucky. I should have known by then that it was early morning blahs and that it would fade away, but stuck in the moment of feeling ill sometimes can feel like forever. So, I waited, excited for my first train ride, nervous about what the day held, butterflies fluttering around in my stomach making me still feel a bit queasy.
"When can we get on, Dad?" I asked.
"The conductor will tell us when to board," he answered.
We waited some more. The man never said anything. "Why isn't he saying, "All aboard!" Isn't it time to get on?" I was scared it would pull out of the station without us.
"He'll tell us soon," my dad said.
Well, we waited some more and nothing happened. Then the air brakes popped, the whistle blew, and the train pulled away out of the station leaving us standing there on the platform. Never once did the man call for us to board. He must have thought we were waiting for someone, or maybe just observing the train pull in and out so early in the morning. My mouth must have fallen to the floor in shock. I think my dad's did too. I looked at him and saw his brow furrowed as he watched the train disappear down the tracks. He took my hand and led me back inside to the office where the gentleman in a hat worked behind the counter. He looked up quite surprised.
"What are you doing back here?" he asked, perplexed.
"The train left without us," my dad replied.
As he went about getting his money back for our tickets, I stood off to the side and felt the tears burning my eyes. My day was ruined. We weren't going to get to go to Canada and spend a fun time watching penguins swim around and around behind the glass, nor would we get to bounce around on the high roller coaster together and eat lots of junk food. But, sometimes God has a different plan for our lives and we need to learn to be flexible and go with it anyway. My dad gave me the option of waiting for another day to take the train, or still go that day in our own car. I chose to drive up in our car and so we did. I still do not know why we missed that train that day, but feel God had a good reason, even if it was to teach me a lesson I needed to learn. To this day I still call that particular day, "The Train Ride I Never Took."
My mom and sister were cleaning out the house, getting it ready to sell someday in the future, and one of them found a little cross stitched piece of work that I had made for my dad many years ago. It is two people standing side by side, with a train in the background, symbolizing that day that I will never forget. I really hope that does not happen to Joe and Alaina today. I hope the conductor hollers loud and clear, "All aboard!" and they get to climb on and take the ride of the year. I hope they treasure every moment together so that one day in the future, Alaina will be able to share with her children the wonderful memories she made today during her day with her dad.
Update: Good news! They got on the train! :) Now to wait and hear more about their adventures in the big city.