That October night was dark and cold. It was so cold that I could even see my breath coming out of my mouth like it was steam. I was the big sister at five. My mother, my 2-year-old brother and I got on a very long train in downtown Chicago headed to Philadelphia.
I could not understand why Daddy had gone on a big trip. Mother told me he wanted to help his country and was going to some type of camp. Maybe it was a camp for boots. She promised us that Daddy would see us in Bethayres, Pennsylvania. That was where my grandmother, Mamie and grandfather, Bob lived. We had gone to the house before but it was in a car.
The train was so much more fun. The steps seemed so high and there were only 3 of them to mount the car. A big man took some of our suitcases.
“Why, Mommy, is that man taking our suitcases?”
” I asked you not to call me ‘Mommy’. The man is not taking our suitcases. He is helping us because we have so many. He has a special job at the train station to help people, especially families with their baggage.”
“Why can’t I call you Mommy? I call my brother Tommy and I call my father, Daddy?”
“Well, it is because your grandmother asked me to call her ‘Mother’ when I was a little girl. My father was a military doctor. We always needed to be very polite.”
My mother stooped down gave me a hug. “I love you so much. Just think of it as being respectful.”
“If I call you ‘Mother,’ do I need to do anything else?”
“No, just a smile will do, Jannie.”
I thought to myself it did not seem fair, she gets to call me Jannie but I have to call her Mother. I do really, really love her a lot. So I will be respectable.
I held my brother’s hand as he held his blankey. We had a very small room that had bunk beds, a pull down sink and a toilet behind another door. The water in the sink would slosh and slosh but did not spill. My heart pounded with excitement every time the train whistle sounded. My eyes were open as wide as they could be. Who wanted to sleep?
Mother climbed into to the upper bunk and seemed to fall asleep right away. My brother and I slept in the lower bunk at least that was my mother’s plan. Good thing she was asleep as I got out of the bed and went to watch out the window all night. It was fun to see the lights along the way. When the train stopped there were whistles and all sorts of shouting. In the morning, the three of us slipped out of our bunks and went to look for breakfast. BREAKFAST ON A TRAIN!!! Who wouldn’t want that? The breakfast car had small tables on each side with really big windows so we could see everything. The tables had white material on them like I remembered from my grandmother’s house. Even little glasses with flowers on the table. I could not understand why people were not looking out the windows. There was so much to see. Towns, cows, big fields and lots of space. To be on a train that was swaying and clanking on its way was so thrilling. I knew we were on a big adventure. When the train went thru towns some sort of gates came down to block cars from crossing. Bells clanged every time we went into a town. Sometimes there were lots of cars waiting for the train to get finished. Other times there were no cars at all.
Mother explained we were moving to Bethayres while Daddy was at his camp. So that is why we had so many baggages.
The Bethayres house was big. It had 3 floors and a basement. What I loved about the yard was that it was so big. The driveway had an island on it with three trees. Then the driveway went past the house to the barn. No animals in the barn but my uncle had a work room there. He had pictures tacked up on the walls. Mommy told me the pictures were of actors and actresses that my uncle worked with. I loved going to see my uncle’s office. He had a typewriter and when he visited he would do a lot of typing. We were not to disturb him when he was typing.
My grandfather, Bob, was a doctor but he was mostly sick now and stayed in bed all the time. I loved to go in and talk with him. His room had a porch attached to it. When he was not in bed he would be in the library where there were books from the floor to the ceiling. More books than I had ever seen. My most favorite thing was to watch Bob roll cigarettes. He put down a small white paper and sprinkled tea leaves on it then carefully rolled the paper around the leaves. He licked the paper so it would stay closed. When he finished it looked like he had made a lot of sticks of chalk–but there were tea leaves inside. He also liked to draw.
For me it was a new beginning that I liked a lot except that I missed Daddy. We had a big letter B on our car so that my mother could get more gas for the car.