It was my turn. I had to go, but I was afraid.
Every year my father, who worked for a brokerage firm in Philadelphia, went to Chicago on business. My two older brothers each in his turn attended a boarding school in western Wisconsin. Each year my father took this opportunity to visit their school with one of us younger children. There were 13 of us.
He didn’t like airplanes so he always took the Pullman from Philadelphia to Chicago.
The night before we left in October 1954, I sat worried sitting at the kitchen table. My mother sat down beside me and put her arm around my shoulders and said,
“You don’t’ have to go, Heidi.”
I didn’t say anything because I had to go even though my right arm was in a cast. It was my chance to take an exciting journey and sleep and eat on a train and see a big city. I was 9 years old, but my father was an alcoholic and I was afraid. He also had throat cancer and after several surgeries, spoke through a hole in his throat.
We left the next morning with my little bag packed and my royal blue Sunday coat and blue leather shoes (not my ugly brown school Oxfords.) We lived in the country so this was a big adventure for me.
The train was a lot of fun and my dad pointed out the sights like the Susquehanna River, the Horseshoe Curve, and Pittsburgh. It was magical when the conductors, who were very kind to me, turned our compartment into a bedroom. There was even a teeny, tiny bathroom. However, some of my pleasure evaporated when I saw my father drink from those miniature bottles of alcohol.
The sidewalks of Chicago overflowed with people. It looked just like the picture in my Geography book. I couldn’t believe it. My father took me shopping to a department store that was a skyscraper. He bought towels for the family, which we used for many, many years.
Finally, we took another train to Paririe du Chien, Wisconsin, where my brother, George, was a junior and a football player.
As my father and I stood in my brother’s dorm room, he told me to look out the window to see if I could get a glimpse of him and his team. Momentarily, I did, but I turned back to look at him. He was drinking out of a brown paper bag. I knew it was alcohol. It was then that I pledged to myself – I’m going to love him anyway.
I don’t know who won the football game or what my brother said or did or even how we returned to the family home, but I was profoundly changed and strangely at peace.
My father died a year later in November.
In the course of my life, this phrase has been a constantly burning flame for my loved ones.
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