Thursday, February 20, 2014

On Memories, Writing, and Trains

[Updated April 17]

I'm a Midwestern girl. I was born in Oak Park, Illinois, spent my first six months in Chicago and the next six years in Elmhurst, a suburb of the Windy City. I have fond memories of getting dressed up and walking hand-in-hand with my mom to the "El" station a couple of blocks from home, and riding from there into the city for shopping forays. 

What we remember is always fascinating to me. Here's what I remember of those trips....

I remember shoving a nickle into the slot of the peanut dispenser, then twisting the handle (unless it was too stiff and my mother had to do it) and cupping my hands beneath the metal chute to catch the nuts. One or two always got away, but not for long. The pigeons were ready, and they bobbed and cooed and snatched the runaway nuts, and the ones I threw them on purpose. 

I remember riding the escalator to the second floor of Carson Pirie Scott, where Miss Lovelace (I adored her name) fit my new shoes. 

I remember eating hotdogs served in cardboard sleeves and slathered with pickle relish at the counter in the basement restaurant of...well, I've forgotten that. But oh! what fun to spin around on the seat until the hot dogs arrived. 

I remember kneeling on the scuffed seat of the train to watch the world outside. I was a watcher even then, fascinated by sheets flapping as if they might raise the tenements into the air, by platforms where people scurried into and out of the train, and always by the people themselves. 

I'm still watching, and I'm still riding trains. In fact, I'm working on a series of long essays about train travel. 

One the essays -- "The 'I' States" -- appears in the Winter 2014 Issue of The Museum of Americana: A Literary Review. I'm especially honored to be included because this issue is focused on the Midwest. I began my life in the Chicago area, was reared mostly in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was schooled at Indiana University in Bloomington. Although I have lived many other places, I remain a Midwesterner in many ways. This essay -- and this issue -- may begin to tell you what that means.

"Nocturne: Nebraska" appears in the Spring 2014 issue of The Wayfarer: A Journal of Contemplative Literature. Again, I feel honored to be included in such a gorgeous magazine -- beautiful writing, beautifully presented. This lyric essay is a meditation on what cannot be seen beyond the windows while crossing Nebraska at night. 

Right now, I'm planning a long train ride around the U.S. in May or June -- North Carolina to Washington, DC, to Chicago to New Orleans to Los Angeles to Seattle and then....We'll see how my saved-up travel points hold out! I have a new travel backpack, itchy feet, and a loose and flexible plan for the journey, and for the writing. I hope you'll join me on my travels!


  1. Lovely post and lovely photo of the trees!

  2. And now I've read the essay and enjoyed it very much. Evocative writing and insight into a a world I haven't experienced.

  3. Looking forward to reading about your travels. I'm going to have to check out the "I" States.

    Lori Ono