Looking back to where I’m from

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, May 30, 2009

If I sit quiet and still in the darkness, I can feel the rumble of the train as it pulled away from Union Station. I can hear the clanking of the wheels and see the world, as I knew it, become an ever-increasing blur as the train picked up speed. I can taste the salty tears that ran down my cheeks.

But I kept my eyes straight ahead. If I had looked back, I would have jumped off the train and run home to Mama.

In all my eighteen years, I had never been far away from home or away for long. I had crossed the state line into Georgia and been as far down in Florida as Panama City Beach. I’d crossed Mississippi on our way to visit Daddy’s Air Corps buddy in Louisiana but I had yet to go as far north as Tennessee.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And, there I was, going so far from home and not knowing a living soul. I was leaving everything I knew and loved behind for something obscure that had been in my mind and on my heart for as long as I could remember.

Maybe it was the pictures in Daddy’s Air Corps album that lured me to the West where I was born. Pictures of mountains, buffalos, elk and Indians. Maybe it was the stories that Daddy told of ferrying planes to the Russians in Alaska that intrigued me. Or maybe it was Mama’s remembrance of the Jewish couple, who lived in the upstairs apartment and how Mr. Eustance would slip away from his wife to bring the “baby” a toy and hang around to eat bacon and eggs.

Maybe it was books I read about Annie Oakley, Chief Joseph and Buffalo Bill. Or maybe it was just born in me to want to go back.

At this time of year, the “call” is back just as it was those many years ago when I broke Mama’s heart as I rode off on the train.

“You’re taking ten years off my life,” she cried.

Hopefully, I didn’t do that. But I had to go.

In the early 1960s, high school “girl” graduates had four career choices – get married or be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. I didn’t like school all that much. The sight of blood made me feel faint. I didn’t know shorthand and the possibility of being an old maid didn’t bother me in the least.

A job at Yellowstone National Park was what I wanted most in the world and Sen. Lister Hill made it possible. He appointed me. Daddy said I could go and all Mama’s crying and carrying on couldn’t hold me back.

But before the train got to Chicago, I realized that I was not like all the other college students who were going West.

Most all of them were from the East.

They dressed differently and talked funny but made so much fun of my Southern drawl that I shut my mouth in South Dakota and didn’t open it again until I got to Yellowstone National Park and had to tell them who I was.

There were two girls from Alabama at Fishing Bridge and we were initiated into the “society” by a dunking in Lake Yellowstone.

We fell for “everybody does it” and went running like wild horses to the end of the pier and jumped into the icy water while everybody else stopped and laughed.

Yellowstone was a coming of age for me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to be home at 11 p.m.

For the first time, I could go anywhere I wanted with whoever I wanted and come back when I wanted.

I could do anything I wanted to do and there was nobody to say a word to me.

There were séances and Peeotee parties and dancing at The Hole.

Hot rum parties in the hot pots, rafting on the churning whitewater of Yellowstone River, overnight campouts in the backcountry, rappelling in the Tetons, bear watching at the garbage dumps at West Yellowstone and dozens of other things that I had never done before.

But, there was always a little voice inside of me – a voice of reason “crying in the wilderness.” Mama’s voice that reminded me who I was and what was expected of me.

That summer opened a whole new world to me but the most memorable times were the early morning sunrises, the radiant sunsets and the quiet times when it was just me and the whole new world stretching out before me. God’s world. Not man’s. What a wonderful place. That place where I was born.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor for The Messenger. She can be reached at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.