The View from my Seat
By S. Lee Catlett
I have found the best view is when you observe the intimate solitary moments between those leaving or coming back from a journey. I guess I am a voyeur of the extraordinary landscape of people leaving to start anew or returning to something old and familiar. My favorite spot is a bench at the far corner of my city’s train station. I am old and although my wealth has allowed me to have seen many extraordinary gardens, mountains and oceans, the view from this bench has become more breathtaking than any God made landscape I have ever seen.
You see, I always hated the idea of saying good bye, especially because rarely, did I ever have anyone I loved or care enough about to say good bye to. At least in the wonderfully intimate way farewells are exchanged in a train station. The simple good bye, peck on the cheek or the drop off out front, no finesse, no drama and very little emotion. But there are times when I sit in the train station to watch the comings and goings, especially those embarking on their grand trips via train, I see the marvelous and and I absolutely drink those up.
Ironically, I was born in a train station many many years ago. While eight and a half months pregnant, Mama tells it where she sent Daddy off to boot camp with a no frills farewell of “You come back Eddie, or I’ll divorce ya,” his obedient nod and kiss, and as the train left, I dropped right out, there on the tracks. I am certain the story was shortened and embellished over these many years, but one fact remains, I came into this world to the sounds of a train whistle and the hustle and bustle of travelers. Even as a kid, if I heard the rickety rack of the tracks, or the far off whistle, now a horn, I would look to the sound with wonder and imagination. Such a purposeful choice to travel by train these days. In this crazy age of jets and road trips, I just love the fact that people still take the train. It is still possible to walk your loved one into the train station, have your moment with them and watch them leave. That is my favorite part. The hug, the handshake, the long kiss of lovers and the gentle lips to a forehead from a mother. It still is lovely, intimate and magical.
Mama says, “I’ve said more good byes in a train station than good hellos.” She hated going to pick anybody up at the train station as it meant one more person living in our two bedroom house, one more mouth to feed and sadly the last good bye to Daddy was never followed by a hello. He was killed in battle and only came home in a box. Mama was mad and I don’t think she ever went back to the station again.
I start by parking myself on the wooden bench near the front door of the station and scope out who comes in. I let those that are alone walk by with no consideration. College students are my favorite, wives who walk in (and don’t just drop off at the front) are next, and welcome Grandma visits are a close third.
To walk into the station itself with the high ceilings and tremendous echo of noise that hits you first is a view in surround sound and is stunning. Not so much the sound of trains but the unintelligible conversations dwarfed by the loud speakers that drone on for each arrival, departure or lost child. Everyone, I mean everyone, who is taking a train for the first time stops. Just stops and takes it all in….to the annoyance of the regulars who bump into them. I smile when I see a green college boy and know I have to watch that one. I follow them to the far benches near the doors of departure, sit and check my watch. I now have a front row seat to five minutes of paradise. The first minute, Mom maps out the room and knows just where to go, with the Dad pushing his boy along at his wife’s behest. Hurry, hurry, get out of the way the parental body language screams, not letting the boy stop – such a shame. Let him have his moment. Let the boy see the wonder of his grand choice to take the train to the University that chose him by scholarship (by the look of the parents’ thrifty attire). Lucky boy! Second and third minutes are spent like a football coach explaining the winning play, the mother points, directs, insists and pushes her men along. She is stopped in her tracks when she hears the announcement, their train number, its boarding, absolute panic and a race ensues to the door to make the train. The Dad hands his boy his suit case and puts the new college baseball hat on him. His mother moves her husband aside and delivers her farewell with a pointed finger in his face of warning, “be safe – be smart,” and then soft eyes followed by five kisses to his face to her son’s embarrassment. She backs away for her husband’s farewell. This gets me every time. They stare sheepishly at each other and don’t know whether to shake hands or hug, the lean in and then the announcement to board rings out, the mother squawks loudly to hurry up, they jump but hug hard and quickly and their son is pushed through the door with hope and determination. The long look of love is never absent and the mouthed good bye is precious. The parents sending their child away, now have their own emotional view for the last two minutes of my scenic experience. They don’t notice being bumped, prodded or the whispered expletives aimed at them to step aside for those who need to get by. They never take their eyes off their son, they don’t move for those two minutes. They stand true in the same spot until they can no longer see him. I’ve witnessed slow sobs, consoling hugs but these two slowly find each other’s hand and hold on as the train leaves. The strength and emotion in that solitary moment is sad and wonderful all at the same time. They straighten their backs, maintain their grip and walk solemnly through the noisy station. The Dad drops his head down and whispers something in Mom’s ear and she laughs through her tears. As sad as they are, it seems they know they did good. That is the experience I long for and cherish when I gaze upon this unique panorama, never to be seen again. They move me so, as if they were my family, my friends, part of my life for those five minutes while I gaze from my front row seat.
I wish Mama could see what I see. This place only rings of sorrow for her, only the bringing of bad news or the taking away of something good. I see the lovely vista of quaint rituals that everyone has when letting a loved one go and Mama got robbed of that. Like a turnout on a coastal highway, I have also taken in “welcome homes” that leave you deaf with joyous cries of delight. lf only she could have had more happy goings with Daddy and more celebrations when he returned. She would have in her heart the wonderful weight of love that is triggered when someone goes and comes back. She would have the view that I have had to cultivate – Mama hugging him so hard and warning him to return and the memory of Daddy scanning the crowd and the warm glow of love he had for her when their eyes met when he came back. I can’t get enough of them. It always takes my breath away.