Robin Densmore Fuson
Turmoil in the Dining Car
“Jennie, what has arrested your attention?”
I hadn’t realized I’d been staring. I turned my smile toward my mother. “A young mother has her hands full with an active young boy about four years old, a toddler, and an infant. The boy is all over the place. First under the table, then sitting on the seat and cutting the table cloth with his butter knife, then sticking his finger in the butter and licking them clean. She’s pulled him down from crawling up the chair three times in as many minutes, while holding her infant and occupying the other child. I don’t see any other adult helping her.”
The dining car swayed and hummed its clickity-clack in a comforting way. The uniformed waiter with starched napkin over his arm and a tray laden with plates stepped to our table.
“Ah, here’s our food.”
The waiter distracted us with a wonderful aroma of our hot breakfast of eggs, ham and biscuits. My father surveyed the meal over his notes in his hand, as it was being served, then turned his attention to the young man. “Could we have some more coffee?”
The waiter nodded to Father as he stepped away.
Mother smiled at my father. “Charles, please set aside your notes for the duration of the meal.”
“Sorry my dear Elizabeth, I’m going over them to have them firmly in my mind.”
“You have said that five times a day for the last four. You will have them eating out of your hand with your powerful and persuasive words.”
“I’ll put them away.” They gazed at each other as he folded his papers and slid them in his breast pocket. I detected the twinkle in my father’s eye as he winked at her. “I’m not the one who will sway them, it’ll be my beautiful wife and daughter.” He included me in his smile.
I loved my parents and the way they showed their love for each other even in public. They weren’t stuffy the way older couples were, in this dawning era of the 1920’s.
Father wasn’t as sure of his abilities as everyone else was, which made him more approachable as a husband, father, man, and pastor. His humble attitude was as real as the smile he readily gave. No pretense with either of my parents. I smiled at them and grasped their hands. Father’s prayer was short and to the point.
We had started our tasty meal when my attention was drawn to the small boy in the back of the car. “The boy is scrambling up the back of the seat again. You two should sneak a peek, it’s quite humorous. Oh, look, I think he has gotten out of her reach. She’ll need to stand to reach him across the table. What has gotten his attention?” I frowned and jumped up. “Oh no!”
The boy’s hand curved around the emergency chain stop. The mother was too late. She managed to reach his trousers to bring him back down when his hand tightened. As she tugged him down, the train lurched while we evidently rounded a curve, her pulling on the boy brought him off the side of the seat. He didn’t let go of the chain.
Immediately, the whistle blew as the brakes engaged. We were thrown forward, which meant backwards to me. Chaos ensued as people, dishes, food, the whole lot were scattered. The screams, squeals, and crashes were deafening.
All of a sudden, everything came to a stop.
I opened my eyes to an eerie silence. I found myself plastered to the window covered in food. I looked up to see the sky through the opposite window. We must be on our side. I became aware of a weight on my stomach and upper legs. It was my mother! “Mother!” She didn’t respond. I moved her down so I could sit up.
“Mother.” I removed her hat that had gone askew. Blood came from a cut above her eye. I slid out from under her and grabbed a part of my petticoat. I ripped a piece off and pressed it to her head. “Mother. Sweetheart, please wake up.” Her pulse was strong. Breathing fine. I whispered in her ear. “Mama.”
I looked around at the mayhem. Those legs were familiar. “Father!” He was under a table that had come unbolted from its anchor on the floor and landed sideways on him. I needed to go to him, yet I should keep pressure on this cut. What should I do? I shook her again. “Mother.”
This time, she moaned and moved her head. “Mother.” Mother opened her eyes. “Mama, we have been in an accident and you have a cut on your head. Can you hold pressure here? I need to go see to Father.” I put her hand on the petticoat where blood was seeping through. She nodded and obeyed.
I crawled over to my father. “Father.” I tried to lift the table. It wouldn’t move!
Crunching sounds met my ear as someone walked on broken glass behind me. “Ma’am, are you alright? Do you need help?”
“Yes. Can you help me move this off my father?”
Together we moved the table. I crawled to him. Later, I would be pulling glass shards out of my hand, but for now my only thought was for my father. I shook him and said his name, but there was no response. With the man’s help, I gently turned him over. I felt for a pulse. “No! Not you!” I fell in anguished sobs over my father’s lifeless body.
“Wait, let me near.”
I got out of the way as he leaned over Father. He whispered something into Father’s ear. Father gasped and coughed. I was stunned. I threw my arms around Father, but this time with tears of joy. I looked up to thank the man. He wasn’t anywhere in the car. He had vanished.