The response to my call for “Train Stories” has been…well, underwheliming. I’m really hoping to revive a discussion about passenger train service from Northfield through getting Northfielders who have actually experienced the benefits of such service to share their stories with the rest of us. Fortunately, I was able to convince a woman by the name of Sarah (Cox) Currier to contribute a tale.
My short version would be “Northfield girls travel with mother by train (from downtown depot to Chicago suburb) to visit Aunt”. But my wife is a little more literary; after all, she graduated from both the Northfield Public Schools and Carleton College, so her telling of the story goes beyond my one sentence. I’ll get introduce it by asking, “How cool would it be to take a passenger train from Northfield to Chicago?”
I remember a train trip my mother, my younger sister and I took to Glen Ellen, Illinois to visit my mother’s sister and her family. I must have been about ten, and my sister Virginia, about nine. My mother knew the passenger service from Northfield was soon to be discontinued, and she thought it would be a good adventure for the three of us. She packed the proverbial hamper of fried chicken, sandwiches and cookies for the journey. Virginia and I busied ourselves with more important packing. We had spent days preparing for our journey. We had acquired a make-up suitcase from a neighbor. It was the kind movie stars always had in hand. We loaded it with jars of cold cream, powder, hairbrushes, bobby pins and anything else we supposed train travelers should have.
The big day came. We proudly climbed the stairs of the train with the new paisley zippered suitcases our grandmother had given us, (Mine was turquoise, Virginia’s orange), the make-up case and a bag of coloring books and puzzles. Our mother settled right in with her knitting and struck up a conversation with a woman sitting across from us. Virginia and I quickly tired of watching the scenery pass, and headed out to investigate. To our delight, we discovered that there was not only a fancy women’s bathroom, but a sort of lounge with mirrors surrounded with small round lights. Below the mirrors ran a long counter with upholstered stools. We took out our cosmetic bag and sat right down. We carefully rubbed on cold cream, then removed it with the tissues provided in the room. We admired our soft skin and fussed with our hair.
I know that the trip passed swiftly to us, but undoubtedly seemed endless to an older woman. After too many of our trips down the aisle, she wordlessly held her umbrella across our path, barring us from yet another visit to the lounge. We grumbled under our breath about the “mean old thing,” and resigned ourselves to coloring and doing puzzles.
I think it was nearly dark when we disembarked in Glen Ellen, Illinois. Aunt Phyllis was there to greet us. I stumbled climbing down the stairs and felt suddenly shabby as I looked down at my funny old traveling case. I brushed imagined specks off of my Montgomery Wards jacket and we got into Aunt Phyllis’ car for the last leg of our journey.
In Glen Ellen, we learned about real make-up from our older cousin Jeannette. She instructed us on the application of mascara and eye shadow and showed us all about skin care products. I don’t remember much about the train trip home. I know that we returned to our home just a little more worldly.