Roam, Sweet Roam
Thursday, November 24, 2005
You see it on their faces as they sit in train station waiting rooms listening to the Richard Bray Orchestra, or as they stand in line looking up at blinking departure signs, or as they wait at the Greyhound station for a bus that may leave too early or arrive too late.
Not so much worry or exhaustion, but anticipation of what the holiday will bring. What is on their minds?
The journey is supposed to take them to a table that will celebrate what is supposed to be the happiest season of them all -- no matter how many problems are sitting with them on their laps as they wait for the perfectly glazed turkey and the sweet, sweet potato pie.
First, get there. Overcome that frenzy before the feast, a feast that starts with the subtle command to create the perfect Thanksgiving that They promise us we can have, if only we could just get there. Then we would be happy and They would be happy and maybe the frenzy would subside, the frenzy that quietly starts building when the clocks are set back and the days grow shorter and darker, squeezing those hours into minutes, and the minutes into seconds until it seems there is no time left at all.
Too little time to catch that bus, get on that train. Too little time to return that message to your mother, invite that friend over, try to get through that traffic light that seems to turn red without first turning yellow, thaw the roast beef, answer the cell phone ringing frantically at the bottom of a dark bag.
The frenzy before the feast, the rush to perfection when you know things can never be that way. But you try anyway. Because They say you can, that you have to, that if there is any time of the year that you can be perfect and have that perfect meal it is This Day.
You wonder whether there are people out there who really are that happy about a Happy Thanksgiving.
Then you see Theron Houston, 57, peeling a grapefruit Tuesday while waiting for a train in Union Station. He and his wife, Toni Houston, 53, are going to Chicago, a 17-hour train ride between them and the daughter who just returned from Iraq. They are taking the train because they are not in a hurry. He can't wait to get on the train and look out the window and see Harpers Ferry and the apple orchards of Pennsylvania. "In a plane, all you see is a stewardess coming by with peanuts."
The train clock says 3:07 p.m. and the Houstons have all the time in the world. And they seem happy. Happy in that kind of way that is not fake but comforting.
* * *
You descend the escalator thinking frenzy should reside below ground, and you encounter Stephanie Golden and her husband, Richard, sitting at a cafe table. They are both lawyers in Fairfax, where they work happily together in their own practice. Stephanie is knitting a red rectangle for Warm Up America, which makes blankets for charity. They are going off to visit their youngest son, who just graduated from University of Virginia and is in New York and who said: "Gee, Mom, I don't know how long I'm going to be in New York. So why don't all of you come here for Thanksgiving?" This is the son who shares a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate. Did you know there are companies in New York that just come into these little apartments and build walls, Stephanie asks. "I guess those walls come down as well," she says.
Stephanie is saying everything will be fine, but the trip is a little harder on her because she usually cooks. Now with the kids grown, things have changed. She shrugs. This year they will eat at an Italian restaurant because everything does change.