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Birthday photo

There is always some specific moment
when we realize our youth is gone;
but years after,
we know it was much later.

~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

Happy 30th Birthday, Joel!

We love you!!

She’s 4!

Zoe's Birthday

Happy, Happy Birthday, Zoe!

Happy 81st Birthday

♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ Happy Birthday to You ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ Happy Birthday to You ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ Happy Birthday, Dear Dad ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ Happy Birthday to You! ♥ ♥ ♥♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥

We love you!

Enjoy your day!

Since selling our Texas home last April, we’ve shuffled around the country visiting our kids and relatives, biding time until all our kids have put down some roots long enough for us to figure out where to put down ours. This winter, after several days of shoveling snow in Minnesota, we decided to go shovel snow in Iowa for a while. After a few days of that, we decided maybe Illinois snow was whiter and we took the train from Ottumwa to Chicago last Friday to hide out at Ali and Matthew’s for a few days.

The train ride to Chicago was none too exciting, but it was enjoyable to be there in five hours and not have to drive. We left in a horrible fog, so there was not much to see, but the staff was friendly and the dining car experience was pleasant. Matthew met us at Union Station and we had a nice long weekend in Evanston with them.

Since Ali and Matthew had classes on Tuesday that had not yet been canceled, we had planned to try to get a cab to the station for our 2:00pm train, but that meant walking a couple of blocks from their apartment (in predicted snow and wind, with our bags) to the nearest place we could easily get one. Monday night, Matthew offered to drive us to the station early, before his classes, and we decided that even though we’d get there very early, it was the better option.

When we walked out into the parking garage on the 5th floor of their building around 10:15 Tuesday morning, there were drifts of snow already forming around the cars. Matthew said in all the snows they’d had there, he’d never seen that much inside the garage before. At that time, it was snowing, but the roads were pretty good and traffic was still flowing. Our drive to the station took about 45 minutes, not much longer than it would have in good weather. Knowing my almost 81-year-old father was planning to pick us up at the Ottumwa Depot when we arrived, and the weather was only going to get worse, I called Dad and asked if he might get some help to get our car to the depot before it got really bad and just leave it in the parking lot for us along with a shovel and ice scraper. That way he could avoid getting out in the worst of the storm. He said he’d wondered about doing that already and his neighbor would be glad to help him.

Once at the station, we stood in line to check in and to make sure our train was still scheduled to run. While standing there, an odd looking man walked up talking and laughing. At first we though he must be on a phone, but finally concluded he was just conversing with himself! When we reached the counter, the clerk asked,

“Where are you going?”

“Ottumwa, Iowa.”

“Oh, the home of Radar O’Reilly!” he said, chuckling after delivering a line he’d probably used many times before.

He asked us to drink a Grape Nehi for him, assured us no trains had blown over in the last couple of weeks, and directed us to the California Zephyr: Train 5, Gate F.

Our growling stomachs diverted us to the food court. As we ate, we struck up a conversation with the couple sharing our table. They were about our age and doing exactly what we were doing — “retired,” sold their home, and were traveling between kids and parents for the time being — only they were headed all the way to Oregon. Anyway, it was nice to meet another couple who didn’t think we were any more nuts than they were to do what we’ve been doing these past several months.

The train station, which was larger than some airports I’ve been in, was PACKED full of unusual, bewildered, and disgruntled people… especially those arriving there from New York… and probably more than usual because flights had been canceled. In addition, there must have been an Amish convention that was about to happen or had just ended because there were no less than 6 or 7 large Amish families in the station, totaling 40-50 people, or possibly more.  I’ve seen smaller groups of Amish before, but en masse, this was a particularly incongruous mixture: Edward Lear beards, uniform wide-brimmed hats, bonnets and miscellaneous turn-of-the-century winter attire, McDonald’s burgers, fries, and super-sized soft drinks, Igloo coolers, name brand modern luggage, and brightly colored baby carriers. But on the other hand, I’m sure they looked in astonishment at how oddly out of place we looked to them, too!

Finally, we were instructed to line up for boarding and we managed to get toward the head of a very long line. Outside, other lines were forming.

“Sleeper or coach?” asked a train steward.

“Coach.”

“Next car.”

“Where are you going” asked the next steward.

“Ottumwa, Iowa.”

“Next car.”

“Where are you headed?” asked the next steward.

“Ottumwa, Iowa.”

“Oh, that’s the car you just passed.”

“They just sent us here.”

“Who did?”

“The man at the last car.”

“With curly hair?”

“With the cap.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. Sorry. Ottumwa’s in the car before this one.”

After finding the right car and stowing our luggage, we were told to sit anywhere we liked… “except if you’re alone. If you’re not a couple, you can’t sit in the blue-tagged seats. Those are reserved for couples and families.” We never did find any blue tags, but no worries… we were still claiming each other. Our car contained a wide variety of people, aged 0-85, or thereabout, and their temperaments equally varied.

We sat on the train a while watching the snow blowing furiously through gaps in the roof and finally they announced apologies for the inconvenience, but we weren’t going anywhere until we had “road power,” which I assume was a different engine… or maybe an additional engine… I’m not sure. They said we’d probably be delayed an hour. It was amusing to overhear all the conversations about what had actually been announced, and several people relayed to others by phone that we were delayed because there was “no power in the track.”

Our 2:00pm train finally left Union Station at 2:54. We crept along, stopping frequently and by 4:15, we had made it only as far as Naperville, approximately 30 miles, and were informed of commuter train traffic jams and switch and signal malfunctions all along our route.

At this point, a nearby young mother with what appeared to be a fairly typical 3-year-old and maybe a 6 or 7-year-old began hollering at her kids to “Shut up!” because she was on the phone. They hadn’t been loud at all and had done nothing obvious that had called any attention to them from others. She, on the other hand, was loudly complaining about the delays to her phone companion. Shortly after, she began spewing forth with expletives and profanity directed toward her young children, interspersed with “Shut the f* up!” Seriously? We hardly heard the kids make any noise at all, except for some pleasant exchanges with other passengers, but eventually the younger one mimicked his mom and she more or less dared him to continue… which he did, calling his mother the n-word and imitating her own dialogue. At this she laughed, made fun of him, and he began to cry — and then she began humiliating him for crying.  I can’t even write most of the appalling things she said. Soon she was on the phone again proudly telling someone how she’d handled the situation. An announcement was soon directed to our specific car saying there would be zero tolerance for profanity, but this only made her volume increase with loud ranting that she’d bought a round trip ticket and they weren’t going to throw her off the train… “This ain’t how we do things in the hood!” Then she stood up to be heard at the front of the car where she called some women a “hussy” for reporting her. We were only moments from reporting her ourselves, as were probably several others. We had frequent walk-throughs by staff after that point to keep her in check, and every time her kids said anything at all, she scolded that they were going to get them all kicked off the train… not her, but her kids.

Meanwhile, at 5:30, Steve and I made our way to the dining car for our dinner reservations. The ride became bumpy as soon as we were served. I had trouble hitting my mouth with the fork a few times, and then unexpectedly, we finished our meal at a complete stop. I don’t think we started moving again for 30 or 40 minutes. While we were still stopped, another train passed us and we noticed we couldn’t see their tracks for all the snow.

There was another man in his own world on our train. He had long hair, a big smile, and looked a little scruffy. He walked through our car several times, stopping at each row with children, almost as though he was sneaking up on them, uttering “Blessings!” and then gibberish seemingly directed toward the kids to make them laugh. I’m sure his intent was good, but it was a little creepy. The young mother with the foul mouth later invited him to talk to see what else he would say because she found his oddness entertaining. He said something about beer and she said something about Hennessy. I think they were both drunk. I would have said she was high, too, but I’d overheard her saying to someone she hadn’t had any weed for two weeks. I also overheard her oldest say he didn’t feel well and thought he might throw up. She was on the phone at the time and told the person she was talking to that he’d been running a fever for two days.  (I hope we didn’t catch whatever it was!) She sent her sick son, alone, to buy a Sierra Mist from the snack car, which had just announced they would be closed for an hour. She would have heard if she hadn’t had the phone constantly glued to her ear. When he returned empty-handed, she got up to go see why he hadn’t been able to buy it. The youngest one wanted to know where she was going and the older boy told him to shut up or he’d slap him.

I’m really concerned for the well-being of those kids. They seemed attention-starved and could probably be great kids if they only had a decent parent. When they got positive attention from others, they were very pleasant. They were going to get off at Burlington, but we were still a long way from there. At 8:26 we reached Galesburg, our first “smoker’s stop,” and it was a full blown blizzard by then. Still, probably 25 hardcore smokers stood in an unsheltered area in the middle of a blizzard to get a few puffs, our foul-mouthed young mother among them. I had to laugh. I looked out the window at the smokers standing beside the train and could barely see them for the blowing snow, but they were determined!

On our way again at a crawling pace, Steve and I were constantly checking the little blue dot showing our location on his iPhone GPS, anxious for certain passengers to disembark at Burlington. We had to stop yet again to wait for another train to pass or switches to be dug out before we got there. At some point before this, we’d been told that during all our frequent stops, our own conductors were often exiting the train and shoveling snow to uncover switches and manually switching them and turning on signals, or we were just behind another train whose conductors were doing so.

Our young foul-mouthed mother had another problem. We were now waaaaay past our expected arrival time and the Burlington Depot was reportedly closed. Her ride home was stuck somewhere in the snow, couldn’t get to her, and taxi services refused to run. Steve then suggested when she got there to call the police and tell them she was stranded at the depot with two young children. We finally arrived in Burlington about 10 pm and thankfully, other passengers left the train at that stop with her, so she was not totally alone. Last we saw them, they were all struggling to get themselves and their luggage through knee-deep snow, heading toward a darkened depot in the middle of a blizzard. We dropped a few more off at Mount Pleasant, and then our next stop was to be Ottumwa — but curiously, we stopped at some random railroad crossing in Fairfield at 10:52pm, letting off four or five people right there on the street. They piled into a truck and SUV. I don’t think they intended to be dropped off there originally, but given the weather conditions, there was no way their transportation could have picked them up in Ottumwa. This was surely an emergency drop-off location arranged en route.

Roughly 26 miles later, at around 11:30, we arrived at the Ottumwa Depot. Yes! We finally made it and our depot was still open. While we gathered our luggage, they announced that the train was going no further for several hours until tracks were able to be cleared ahead of them. I think if not muffled by snow, the moans could have been heard in Omaha. The train was going on through Omaha to California, and good luck to them! The ride was memorable and the Amtrak staff was wonderful. It was just a few passengers we could have done without.

The steward opened the door for those of us who were getting off the train. He lowered a step stool down for us and all but the very top of it sank into the snow. He then stepped down into the snow to start a path for us and waited to help us out. Only a few feet away was a freshly shoveled path into the depot with people waiting to open doors for us. At that point, we could see our car in the parking lot, buried in a drift, but could also see cars making their way down the nearby street, so Steve decided we were going for it.

Finding the shovel Dad left for us in the car, he began to shovel out of the drift, then alternated between forward and reverse, easing progressively backwards to push snow out of the way with the car. Within a few minutes, he was helped by some Good Samaritans with a shovel and after 30 minutes or so we got the car out into the street. We followed the snow route, all of which had been plowed sometime during the evening already, but some parts of it more recently than others. We briefly got hung up on drifts in a few places, but for the most part were having little trouble on the streets… until we got to my parents’ street, which had not yet had any plowing.

At 11:55pm, a block from their house, we seemed hopelessly stuck. We probably tried for 20 minutes to free ourselves, repeating everything he did at the depot, and then suddenly two more Good Samaritans appeared with shovels and plywood. Once freed, they followed us down the street and helped Steve carve out a parking space on the street, as the driveway was knee-deep in snow and there was no way to get into it. By 1:00 am, we were finally parked and inside the house.

Of course, this morning, out came the shovels and snowblower to beat the snow plow that would bury our car deeper. Steve and Dad worked a long while clearing the drive. Steve pulled the car into the drive and put his keys in his pocket. Earlier, he had asked me to bring him his iPhone so he could take photos and then put that in his pocket, too.

When they finally came inside, covered with snow, I said, “Take those pants off and let me go throw them in the washer so we don’t get snow all over the place.” They did. I then picked up all their wet clothes and threw them into the wash. About halfway through the cycle, Steve asked, “Where did you put my keys and iPhone?”

Doh.

We’ll see if rice and the hair dryer work any miracles on immersed iPhones. (I thought for a minute I might have to find me one of those elusive blue couple tags to wave, but I THINK he’s still gonna claim me. I just won’t be allowed anywhere near his phone when he gets a replacement.)

I have to add here that a friend of mine said, “I hope Steve’s iPhone still works. It would be a shame for it to survive a blizzard only to die in a flood.”

Happy birthday, Ali!

Our baby is all grown up!

We wish you fine and simple pleasures on this very special day, but mostly, hope you realize what a gift you have always been to our family. We love you!