The 5:20 From Charles City to Olympia: The Short Story Continues
A Mistake to Note
Thanks to my friend Linda, a mistake was pointed out that I need to address. In the next-to-last installment of this short story, Sarah with an “h” informed William that a baby was due in March. Somehow I glossed right over that fact in the next chapter of the story, and it was Christmas and not a word about the baby.
That’s what happens when I’m in a hurry and trying to do too much.
So thank you Linda. I think I’ll just carry on where I left off and pretend I didn’t make that mistake. It’s January 3rd and William and Sara are boarding the train for Olympia, Washington, where they hope to learn how to diversify a farm in order to save theirs…..and yes, Sarah is pregnant and due March 20th.
Now let’s find out what transpires.
We took the Christmas decorations down after the football games on New Years Day. We packed and took care of some last-minute chores and errands on the 2nd and we boarded the train for Olympia before the first sliver of gray formed in the east on the 3rd. Ma and my sister Jeannie waved and cried as the wheels turned and rattled the train through a tunnel of darkness towards Chicago. From there we would go to Los Angeles and then up the coast to Olympia, a total of seventy-one hours on the iron horse, a long trip for sure. We could have flown and been there in six hours from doorstep to doorstep, but it would have cost more. Besides, the train gave Sarah and I a chance to spend some quality time together and relax a bit before our lives changed forever.
Sarah was tired. She was heavy with child, due on March 20th, so she wasted no time finding our cabin and plopping herself down for a short nap.
“Snuggle with me, Sugar. Spoon me, please, and remind me that our child is going to be healthy and happy.”
I did as the lady requested and buried my face in her hair, inhaled her scent, rejoiced in her contours and reminded myself just how lucky I am.
“Sarah, you know as well as I do that little Heather will be deliriously happy because, darling, she will be loved. And she will be a beauty like her mother, with her mother’s eyes, her mother’s smile and her mother’s ability to drive men crazy. Now shush for awhile and get some rest. There will be more than enough time on this trip to discuss life and love.”
Chasing the Sun
From Chicago we crossed the Great Plains diagonally, passing hundreds of farmhouses and barns, some new, some faded as old photographs. Towns rose up from the barren landscape then disappeared from view, large cities and Saturday Evening Post towns, tons of glimmering steel and glass reaching for the gods of commerce and brick storefronts barely making enough to pay the lease. We crossed trickling streams and wide rivers, some active, some locked in ice, and everywhere we looked smoke rose from chimneys as our fellow Americans hunched inside awaiting the first crocuses and the promise of moderation.
The farms changed to ranches. The vegetation lessened, turned brown then faded from view as we gradually, so gradually as to be unnoticed, increased elevation and surged towards the granite sentinels hindering our approach to the Pacific Ocean.
The forty-seventh hour found us following historical pilgrims into the Sierra Nevadas. Beside me Sarah gasped at their beauty.
“William Dale I swear, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of this land.”
“In that case, Sarah, you now know how I feel being with you.”
“Oh, Sugar, if I wasn’t about to pop a bun out of the oven, I’d attack your bones right here, right now.”
God she was beautiful. God I was lucky!
The urban sprawl of the City of Angels greeted us, sans the heavenly hosts, and we traded one train for another and the last leg of our journey. The calendar insisted it was early January but the temperature was seventy glorious degrees and the sun shone on our unborn child as Sarah told me Heather was quite active.
“I think she feels the sun’s warmth, Sugar. Or maybe she’s as restless as her mother and she wants the hell off this train. I’m beginning to realize what a sardine feels like. Any chance of us flying home after this fact-finding trip? I know it will cost more money but honey, I’m going to be a raving bitch if I have to do this again.”
“When you put it that way, I think it will be money well-spent.”
She laughed. Her laughter played the strings of my heart and a beautiful melody was born. Sarah is not a classic beauty. There are too many mismatched parts to call her classically beautiful but to me, her imperfections were perfect. I looked at her and smiled my goofy-ass smile.
“I love your smile, Sugar, especially when it’s aimed at me, but knock it off before we get arrested for lewd behavior on the train. Speaking of lewd behavior, did your sister tell you we’re meeting this mystery man of hers when we get home?”
“Yep, she did. Poor bastard. He doesn’t know what’s about to hit him. He’ll have to pass muster like a shaking private before a drill sergeant. It’s about damned time. Jeannie’s thirty-two and I want her happy. Whoever this guy is, he’d better treat her right, and he’d better know something about farming.”
And so it went as the train clattered its way northward, skirting the Pacific under blue skies before meandering to the interior of California, wine country, microchips everywhere, over hill and dale, snow-capped peaks to the east, clouds gathering as we passed into Oregon, farms, rivers raging, an inland sea of evergreens, the mighty Willamette River to the Columbia and into Washington as the skies unleashed the weather that state is known for. Mounts Adams then St. Helens and finally Rainier signaled the end of our journey as the conductor announced Olympia/Lacey Amtrak Station.
A damp cold seeped into our marrow as we found a taxi driver willing to take us to the Governor House Hotel in downtown Olympia, and thirty-two minutes later we were checking into our room followed closely by collapsing on the bed in each other’s arms at five in the evening Pacific Standard Time.
Learning a New Way of Life
We slept through the night. Finally, the next morning, as the dark turned to gray and the rain turned to drizzle, we ate breakfast at the Spar Grill then rented a car one block down at Avis. Our destination was New World Farms on 76th Southeast, owned and operated by Sheila and Bill Hollis. The GPS unit took us right to the driveway we sought, a driveway flanked by poplars which led to a yellow two-story farmhouse with green trim. Our investigative skills had earlier told us that our hosts ran an urban farm of one-hundred and eighty-two acres and that New World Farms had been doing agritourism business for eight years.
As I shut off the engine of our Toyota Camry the front door of the farmhouse opened and our hosts appeared. The woman, who I correctly assumed was Sheila Hollis, was full-bodied with onyx hair flowing over her shoulders to the small of her back. Her smile was gentle kindness personified and as we got closer to them I noticed her eyes were jade in color, giving her the appearance of an Egyptian goddess. It was impossible to guess her age. She was one of those women who defied the natural aging process. The only hint at her age was garnered by looking at her husband, Bill Hollis, standing next to her and waving. His hair was gray, his eyes deep-set in a sea of laugh lines, and he appeared to be about my height at five-ten. His handshake was firm; hers was enfolding. They both were instantly likeable.
“Welcome to our farm,” Sheila said. “William, Sarah, we are blessed to have you among us. Come inside and join all of us for breakfast. Our family is your family. Our home is your home. While we eat and greet you can tell us all about your mother, your sister Jeannie, Maw Maw and of course, the new bundle of joy, Heather.”
I looked at Sarah. She looked at me. I felt her hand grip my forearm.
We had never mentioned Ma, Jeannie, Heather or Maw Maw to these folks.
What in the holy blazes was going on?
To Be Continued
I’m having a little creative fun here, so bear with me. Sha and a few of my older friends know what’s going on, but I’m afraid I’ve confused some of you. My first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday to Today” was about Sheila and Bill Hollis and in particular about Sheila’s unusual and spectacular “talents.”
That’s all I can tell you at this point.
See you next time.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)