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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Home Planet

The echo of a distant train

As much as modern travel involves airplanes, a train still strikes a special spot in many of us.  (Cheryl-Anne Millsap)
As much as modern travel involves airplanes, a train still strikes a special spot in many of us. (Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

The first time I remember being filled—being overcome is probably a better description— with the need to travel was when I was 12 or 13. My mother and I were driving across the county and we passed through a sleepy farm town a few hours from home.

There was a Hollywood back-lot familiarity to the structure of the town: A main street, framed on either side by small storefronts, a couple of churches, a warehouse by the railroad tracks and a small but still functioning passenger depot

It was when I saw the depot I lost my head. I’d never been anywhere by train and here was a picturesque whistle stop just a couple of hours from home. I begged my mother to let me take the train and spend a night in that small town.

I could see myself arriving and checking into the hotel. I could see myself having dinner in some small cafe, watching the people as they came in and sat down for a meal. I could see everything about the experience but the fact that I was a child who wasn’t old enough to travel like an adult.

My mother’s answer, once she realized I was actually serious, was no, of course. And I was heartbroken. The ride home was long and uncomfortable, the silence broken only by my tears.

Now, on this side of time, I can only imagine my mother’s bafflement at my pleading.      

One minute I was sitting quietly on the seat beside her and then next I was asking for the impossible. There wasn’t any warning.

What kind of kid begs to go off on their own like that? To a place like that?

I wasn’t mooning over an exotic destination. I wasn’t begging to go to Paris or London or Morocco. I was in tears because she wouldn’t let me go off on my own to a small town in the middle of nowhere because it had an old hotel and a train station.

I’m sure my vision of what I would do on my own in the little town was fed by the old movies I watched on television and the old books I preferred. Stories of women of mystery stepping off a train and into an adventure. That and a steady diet of after-school reruns of Andy Griffith.

Now, with a lot of years and and a lot of miles behind me, I have some understanding of what I was begging for that day. It wasn’t about going somewhere. It was about being somewhere.

I’ve had all kinds of travel experiences since that day, from family vacations with my own children to solo trips to Iceland and Europe. But I never forget that wherever I go, I am not alone. I am always in the company of the girl who just wanted to catch a train.      

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country.