Los Angeles Union Station
I did not know how I would feel about heading to Cane River National Park for our annual Amtrak vacation. It seemed a very long journey, during which time I would have to tolerate the antics of my grandmother. She was enough of a personality without any excitement, but this tripped seemed to turn her usual colorfulness up a notch. The madness started before we could even leave Los Angeles Union Station.
Once we found a place to safely park the car for a few days, we were all pulling our luggage out of the car and making sure everyone was ready to board the train. Of course, grandma set us all in fast motion by announcing that she had lost her ticket. Nobody found this amusing.
I had joked in the car on the way to Los Angeles Union Station by reminding her that the LAX airport was close enough for us to buy her a ticket and send her to stay with my father. They were like oil and water in the same room so she definitely did not want that. She laughed nervously and said under her breath, "You'll be some kind of sorry if you try that."
Fortunately, we were two and a half hours early because I always anticipate a small bit of drama with someone from our family. After 20 minutes of serious searching through every suitcase and in every corner and crevasse of the car, we still had not turned up her ticket. I was getting nervous because I thought I might really have to go purchase a last minute flight for her and hope it left before our Amtrak train was scheduled to leave.
I should say that everyone was searching for the ticket except her. She sat in one spot, slightly rocking and humming while we searched frantically. Almost everyone in Union Station parking, it seems, could see us. If she was not an elder and if she was not my grandmother, I might have definitely been cursing at this point.
Once I started calling the airlines trying to check out flights, we witnessed the miracle. It was almost as if she had been hit by a bolt of lightning and all of her memory came flooding back. She had pinned the ticket to her sock. Had I known how powerful the threat of the LAX airport was for her, I would have surely said the magic words sooner.
The two hours we waited for that train to come seemed like they took forever. I realized quickly my stress level would be directly proportionate to how well I could keep the kids from asking crazy questions and how calmly I could entice my grandmother to not act like a kid. I cannot truthfully say I was successful at either of those tasks.
First, I had forgotten to bring meds for Jason. He was usually so excited on trips that his adrenaline was rushing like crazy. This had a different effect in him than in other kids. It made him want to throw up. He usually accomplished this on the new clothing of either me or his father.
As we anticipated, Jason threw up. He missed my clothes this time and just covered my lower arm. I had packed two large towels in a plastic bag and stuffed them into my carry-on bag. I was feeling pretty proud of being prepared until I noticed how many people were staring at us in Los Angeles Union Station.
Contrary to what I believed, that they were staring at Jason's mess all over me, they had another more entertaining attention grabber. You guessed it: grandma. She was talking to passersby and asking them if they wanted her to sing for them. Even the people who said no to her got a song.
These tunes varied from church hymns to television commercial jingles. I must mention that some of the jingles were at least 50 years old. I could have kicked myself a thousand times for not following my first instinct and sending her to stay with dad while we traveled. Though I know she was happy to not be heading to the LAX airport, I think I was the most relieved to see that Amtrak train pulling into the station.
I was stunned that grandma slept almost the entire way to Cane River in the National Heritage Area of Louisiana. I think she only awoke twice to use the bathroom and once to eat some peanut butter crackers and take some medicine. The small monster we had seen at Los Angeles Union Station knew to take it easy on the train passengers. What a huge break for us all.
Once she awoke and we were at Cane River, I could not believe the transformation. Initially, she was quite stoic and did not have too much to say. We were taking in more than 300 years of history where plantations, majestic houses, cemeteries, churches and much more had been. Natchitoches was where our ancestors had lived, and I was in deep awe of the quiet stillness this seemed to inspire in my grandmother.
For almost an entire hour, she said nothing. Because her demeanor was so different that it had been at Los Angeles Union Station or the Union Station parking lot. Suddenly, she began to speak in a voice that commanded us all. I watched the wild energy of the kids get calm as she told us stories that had been handed down to her from her grandparents.
My grandmother's total shift was a reminder to me of the value of elders. Even when they are driving you to the brink of your own sanity, they are the walking libraries and history books that give you the deepest meaning of where you originate.
Some of the things my grandmother told my children that day could only be told by her. Even though I am an adult, I still have not grown into that kind of regal sensibility. She bridges the gap between the living and the dead. I just know we have to keep her away from Los Angeles Union Station in order to usher her into her own true power.