In the Spring of 1957, I was being raised as a free roaming seven-year-old child. My mother would encourage me to go outside and play and I'd be off without hesitation, as there were a million things to explore and people to meet, with few rules that I can remember, except for memorizing my address.
One warm sunny morning the household was abuzz. We were planning an outing to the car dealership on Ashland Avenue to pick up our brand new two door 1957 Chevy Bel Aire. From there we were to begin driving to California. When I say we, I mean my mother, father, five-year-old baby sister Janice, and Uncle Billy, who really wasn't my uncle, but my dad’s best friend. It was at this time I got my first lesson in automotive care, when I asked my father why he wasn't driving faster. I was told, "You have to break the engine of a new car in slowly, so the motor oil has a chance to seat all its working parts, and won't burn up on you.” He smiled and said, “Don't worry, we will be going fast soon. This car has a big V8 engine and is made to go fast!"
I had no idea where Sacramento, California, was, but was told it would be our new home and that it was going to be a long drive. My uncle Billy, sitting in the back seat with my sister and me, pulled out a road map of the United States, and started teaching me how to read it. I was already an avid reader of my much older cousin's comic book collection, which made it easier to learn to read the map. I love learning new things and became enthralled by the map, which showed me where we were, and where we were headed. It became my job to keep my dad and everyone else informed of our location. I beamed with pride at being able to interpret the points of the map I held in my hand!.
It didn't take me long to begin learning the world was a much bigger place then I ever imagined it to be. My young mind started to wonder what was down each road on the map. Places I had seen on the television were becoming real to me, and I wanted more maps. I was thrilled to learn we could get free maps from gas stations in each state we traveled through. I felt like I was learning a whole new language and was amazed by all the information maps held. The world was now mine to explore!
The road trip was nothing compared to the places we would visit after settling into our rented house, located southwest of Sacramento. The house we moved into was wasn't new and I really don't know how to describe it, other than it had a lot of doors, and there was a small park across the street with a equally small fish pond. There was a huge walnut tree in what passed as a front yard. I know I liked the house, it held a good vibe. The whole area did. A few houses away was a busy street, and on the other side of the street were newer, smaller houses and the school I would walk a few blocks to attend. I have one vivid memory of it snowing and all of us having a snowball fight on the playground. Right around the corner there was a model airplane shop with remote control planes. I could always hear their motors running, but never saw them flying. The last few vivid memories of the house and area I have were of my mother throwing a bag full of my dad’s stuff into the garbage. I went back and dug through it to find medals and ribbons from when he was a sailor during World War II (he was a second gunner). Another memory I have is of my mother holding my baby sister’s and my hands while we walked down that busy street one afternoon, headed for a movie theatre to see Snow White and Jumbo, when the motorcycle club called the Hells Angels came roaring passed us. I'll never forget that sight and sound! There seemed to be hundreds of motorcycles shaking the ground as they rumbled by.
My father seemed to know a lot of people all over California, and we visited people in mountain areas who showed us different places of interest. I loved driving around the mountains and seeing the sights. We visited the Redwood Forrest and drove through trees. There was a place I was told was a famous amusement park, but it didn't seem all that big to me. I'm sorry to say we didn't go to Disneyland, but we did eat at the Brown Derby and visit Mann’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. To me, California was a wonderland of sights and things to do. So very much different than the dirty smelly city of Chicago, Illinois that I was familiar with.
Then one day my mother informed my sister and I that the three of us would be taking a train trip back to Chicago. My father and Uncle Billy had already driven back to Chicago months before and, while I was excited at the thought of traveling by train, I hated the idea of leaving California. I wanted to stay there forever, and I tried to talk my mother out of going. But she told me I'd be able to return when I was older, which did make things seem better, and I went back to being excited about traveling by train!
I do not remember much about boarding the train, except that we moved quickly through the crowds and it was noisy. I held my little sister’s hand and hurried to keep up with my mother. Once we boarded the train, things slowed down as we walked through the cars to find the compartment where we would sleep at night. Each car we walked through was different and people seemed to be moving with purpose as my mother dragged my sister and me behind her. The train was bigger and longer than I imagined, and it seemed we walked forever. Finally, we entered a car with rows of curtains on both sides of the narrow passageway. When we stopped and my mother pulled back one off the curtains, I saw two levels of beds and she told my little sister Janice and me that we would be sleeping on the top bed. To me, the tiny space was cozy and there was a small light in the compartment too.
When the train started moving, we continued on our way to a double decker car to see the views. It took a while to get used to walking. All the cars seemed to be rocking back and forth but after awhile even the sound of the train passing over the tracks became a normal rhythm. I liked being up high, looking out the windows on both sides of the train and being able to freely move back and forth between the seats. Plus, I could hear people pointing out things of interest, which made the adventure even more pleasant. I didn't enjoy looking out the windows at night, because there was very little I could see in the dark. So, at night I became a people watcher, so much so that my mother had to remind me not to stare (much easier said than done!). I was amazed by how many people were actually on the train, and at how orderly everything seemed to function. Once in awhile the train would stop to let people off and on. I thought to myself how riding the train was like taking the bus in Chicago. Everyone knew where they were going. My mother had to remind me not to stare at people while riding the buses in Chicago too! I was amazed by the different ways people dressed and carried themselves and often wanted to ask questions, but my mother said that wouldn't be nice. So I'd sit there and wonder.
The second night on the train my sister and I were awaken by a commotion of people pulling back the curtain of our sleeper. Neither one of us had any idea what was going on, as people started telling us not to worry that everything was going to be alright. By instinct I began to sooth my sister, who was frightened and asking a million questions. The people around us were trying to keep us distracted from what was actually going on. Our mother had suffered a major miscarriage and was hemorrhaging badly, causing the train make an unscheduled emergency stop in a small rural Midwestern town so she could receive medical attention. My sister and I didn't know it, but our fates had been decided too.
An older couple took over soothing my sister and assured me she was safe with them, while a couple of guys started asking me baseball questions and telling me about themselves. Soon after the commotion stopped, my sister and I were dressed and lead to the dining car. The train started moving again, with the early morning daylight streaming in through the windows. My sister didn't appear frightened any longer and I was comfortable talking about my favorite teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs. It wasn't long before I found myself sitting in a railroad car designated for the baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. One of the players made me a ring out of a crisp one-dollar bill that actually fit on my finger. I forgot about the earlier commotion, and the baseball team kept me entertained for the time it took the train to reach Gray, Indiana. Once there, I was told our Aunt Betty would be waiting to take my sister and me home with her.
True enough, after climbing off the train and standing there on the train platform squeezing my sister’s hand, our Aunt Betty showed up. She assured my sister and me that our mother was okay, and she and our father would come to get us soon. It didn't happen right away though. I was enrolled in school and began to worry I'd never see our parents again. Finally, one day our parents showed up and told us we would be moving into a new house in the far south suburbs of Chicago, but that's another story.
Over the years I would look at the ring the Pittsburgh ball player made for me and wonder who he was. Even today, over sixty years later, I have warm memories when I think of that ring, (which eventually, one of my younger brothers took and unrolled and spent) and I try to recall exactly how it was made. It reminds me that peace and kindness exist in the world and I'll always be grateful for having received it during our train adventure.
|Milo Rose 090411|
Union Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Raiford, FL 32083