A cold spitting rain blew in from the East, spraying frozen spindrift left by Winters’ stubborn departure. It is early April and under a numb grey overcast, the saturated stand with neither zippers nor scarfs dry, exhausted in wait. Four relentless Nor’Easters had just possessed four long weeks of their March and yet still, a frozen rain spewed down upon them.
Boarding time arrives for train #177, The Sou’wester.
It was unusually crowded in the dimly lit rail cars punctuated by musty odors and those finding seats, find them frustratingly damp. I am mid car to the left, sitting on a found newspaper. The seat beside me is empty as are the four across the aisle.
Out the window, the sky has lightened allowing the sun to momentarily release a shaft of golden soft yellow across the tracks. Down the aisle come a family of five led by the mother, then two young girls, a tall boy and a broad shouldered father. The glowing shaft of sunlight follows them as the train slowly moves forward. Both boy and father have removed their hats while the mother directs the girls into the empty seats across from me in a cheerfully efficient way. They all wear traditional plain Amish clothes, head to toe. Additionally, they all wear smiles of the most genuine nature.
The boy has sat next to me, after politely asking if he could. He has a pale complexion and beaming blue eyes. A teenager, no more than sixteen or seventeen. In thanking me for the seat, he extends his hand formally to shake. I am instantly caught off guard by the vise grip that envelops my knuckles. His hands are stone dry and his forearms are thicker than most calves. His boyish voice and radiant smile however, disarm any recoil.
A woman walks down the aisle and he leaps to his feet in offer of his seat. She looks about, smiles and moves on. The father is older, I guess late sixties but he too is built like an ox. He sits quietly reading. The young girls sit reading as well. There are no smart phones, no tablets, no soda and cookies. The boy looks about in marvel, I offer my window seat and he smiles, declining in an appreciative accented English. Between pages,his father will speak and they converse in another language. The boys inflection is high pitched and punctuated with laughter leaving the others smiling in the passing scenery.
At the third stop, a major city, the boy has four times offered his seat to others. As the train carves through the granite and steel canyons of the city, he stares intently towards another world.
Conversely, at that very same moment, I am imagining life in the fields of Lancaster Pennsylvania – driving the horses in the noon day sun to plow some sixty acres, walking to school, no TV and one phone, on the kitchen wall. The simple, contented life.
It is now my stop. With preparation, I extend my hand and do my best to conceal a grimace as he stands and receives it. I ask what language he was speaking and he informs a mix of Dutch and German. As I return his smile, I turn down to the father and mother looking up in admiration and tell them what they already know: ‘you have a very polite and a fine young man here – well done indeed sir, ma’am.’
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