Five hundred miles from my home

Published 11:46 pm Friday, June 17, 2016

If you’re like I am and sick and tired of Donald and Hillary and wish they would both go far, far away and Ronald Regan or John Kennedy or even Honest Abe or FDR could be reincarnated, then you might want to do as I do. Turn on Alabama Public Television and breathe a breath of fresh air.

Just the other night, I caught a program on Peter, Paul and Mary. For those who might not know, Peter, Paul and Mary were folk singers that took the country by storm during the American folk music revival phenomenon of the 1960s.

Of course, those were turbulent times in our country and Peter, Paul and Mary were right in the midst of it all. But, ah, what great memories of when I was on a slow train from Montgomery Union Station to Gardiner, Montana.

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On that late spring morning in 1962, I boarded the train with tears in my eyes and a knot in my stomach. I had never been any farther from home than St. Augustine, Florida to the south and Noccalula Falls to the north. I had never been away from home longer than the few nights I spent with Aunt Eleanor in Eufaula and the week I spent at Camp Grandview that was way, way on the other side of Montgomery.

My cousin and spiritual advisor, Jimmy, told me to just get on the train and not look back. I was heading into Adventure Land as a $50-a month employee of Hamilton Stores at Fishing Bridge at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

So I left Mama, Daddy, boyfriend and puppy dog far behind and didn’t look back.

Not until the train stopped in Evansville, Indiana and a bunch of young Yankees invaded the coach, striking fear into my heart and that of the other young Southern Belle from Pike County, Alabama, Sherry Morgan. We were the only two passengers on the train from south of the Mason-Dixon Line that were Yellowstone bound.

Being from the South and from middle income families, Sherry and I were dressed appropriately in our wash ’n wear dresses in floral patterns, our Mary Jane shoes and tan fake leather handbags – tan goes with anything, Mama said.

Those Ivy Leaguers had on sweatshirts with Greek letters across the front, high top tennis shoes and baseball caps. Why, Mama wouldn’t have let me ride through town looking like that.

Those Ivy Leaguers looked us up and down. They didn’t say a word to us but they snickered and nodded at our new clothes. They didn’t hoot and holler until we opened our mouths and words came out – real slow.

“Where y’alls all frum?” they laughed.


It was going to be a long way from Evansville, Indiana to Gardiner, Montana, especially when the train had to stop every two miles all across the plains to let cows cross the tracks. If it had not been for Peter, Paul and Mary, I probably would have jump train and walked all the way back home in my Mary Jane shoes.

But music is the universal language. When you sing, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re from Boston or Lower Alabama. Y’alls all sing “in perfect har-mo-ney.” For “five hundred miles, five hundred miles” we crowded in the observation car; someone played the guitar and we sang every Peter, Paul and Mary song we knew.

And you could hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.