Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Capitol city

The summer between third and fourth grade, our family made the obligatory pilgrimage to our nation's Capitol. Granny and Grandpa accompanied us; now I don't remember if they rode the train to Chicago and we embarked together? Or if we met in D.C.? Or perhaps we left from Jeff City or St. Louis? At that time, Union Station in St. Louis was a going concern and even the Jefferson City train station still hosted passenger trains. It was 1964 and we rode the B&O, the Baltimore and Ohio. I think it had another name and perhaps I'll be able to find that online, but I don't remember it now.
We made trips to and from Union Station in Chicago often enough that I remember it well, but not so often that it wasn't a thrill. We seldom drove downtown while we lived there, but caught the commuter trains from LaGrange. It was especially exciting to be carrying luggage to the boarding area, though we had been warned to travel light! If you look at my folks' photos from that trip, I'll bet you see two little girls alternating the same jumpers and shorts for our two or three days out there.
We didn't have the first class Pullman room, but I do think we had a roomette on this trip. The bunk folded down and the two chairs folded over so there were two twin beds. Laura and I had one little sleeping area and my parents must have had one next door. Laura had a tendency to fall out of bed; she never had the top bunk at home, so I slept in the fold down bunk. I'm sure we amused ourselves on the train as we always did; playing lots of Rummy, and War; reading our books and looking forward to the meals in the diner and the trips for soft drinks in the 'club car'. My mom always had large totes of food so we wouldn't have to buy much; I think most of her packing involved sandwich fixings and pretzels and vanilla wafers and bananas. The hamburgers in the dining car were always grilled and I didn't like the 'crunchy stuff' on them at that age. A train trip was the one time I was indulged and able to order a club sandwich. I felt I'd hit the big time when my sandwich arrived, cut into triangles and stabbed with a frilled cellophane toothpick. Even though Laura and I had no real need of a menu, we took one and even read the entries under 'ala carte' at the bottom of the page.
From our social studies class, I knew Pittsburgh as 'steel town' and riding through there at night did not disappoint. The view from the train window was as industrial and gritty as I had presupposed. And my memory of Baltimore was of mile after mile of warehouses and electric train wires. I was surprised at how often we changed states; the scale of the trip to Washington, D.C. certainly differed from our trip out west the previous summer.
We walked to our hotel from Union Station. I wish I knew where it was because it certainly doesn't exist anymore. It was called the Hambletonian, I think; the first real hotel I had ever stayed in. We had high ceilinged rooms several floors up. It wasn't a new hotel by any means: I'm certain of that even 40 years hence. I seem to remember our room being a mint green and the bathroom being large and tiled.
Washington was hot; it was summer after all. Little kids played in the fountains and there were long lines at the White House and the Washington Monument. At that time, you just lined up first thing in the morning at the White House and waited your turn. Our family was not the type to wait in long lines, not when you could visit any number of places with no lines at all! So we walked...and we walked. We did make it to the top of the Washington Monument; there was some discussion of taking the steps, but I know at least some of us waited for the elevator. I haven't been up there since, but I do know I thought the view was worth it! I still love looking over the city; whether from the top of the old Post Office or the offices of the Farm Bureau. We visited the Smithsonian; I assume the Natural History museum because I don't think the American History museum even existed! I know we ate in the cafeteria there because my poor sister suffered from strept, was on some antibiotic and threw up the pink stuff all over the cafeteria. We had little pink watches from Granny, I believe, and she was broken hearted because hers was ruined.
I loved the Jefferson Memorial, the whole round dome and situation on the Tidal Basin. We walked to the Lincoln Memorial and sat on the steps to hear the Marine Band play a concert on the Potomac. My father gave me the binoculars so I could see over to Arlington and Rob't E. Lee's home. The evenings were so pleasant after the heat of the day.
I brought home souvenirs from Washington. I had a copper looking model of the Jefferson Memorial and one of the Washington Monument. They were substantial metal and lived on our shelves when we returned home. I'm sure I should remember more of that trip, but I certainly do recall agonizing over how to spend my money for souvenirs!
I can't wait to take Aaron to Washington D.C. He's just about old enough to walk the miles it takes from Capitol to Monument. He may not catch all the details of the history of the place, but he'll remember the statues and the buildings and their grandeur. He'll remember all the people there, too, all the teachers, students, moms, dads and kids, taking in the sights of their country.

1 comment:

  1. Nothing beats the memories I have of the train trips to and from Colorado with my family. We played war, canasta, and uno. I also volunteer to tag along on Aaron's Washington DC trip.