Saturday, December 22, 2007


It's holiday time and travel time. My heart goes out to the people clustered in airports, elbow-to-elbow, waiting for planes, facing a long ride and possible delays at other airports, with more lines awaiting.

One year, I decided to try to avoid the crowds by taking a train to Montana, where my granddaughter lives. Trains are slower than planes, but they have a certain charm. My husband I have taken Amtrak around the country in years past, and other than the fact that, in cities, the view from train windows is like visiting a decrepit ghetto, we have enjoyed the trips and the magnificent scenery along the way.

However, I didn't expect the crowded situation at Union Station in Chicago. This old, historic building was packed with people. There are some modern conveniences, like escalators, and I decided to use this to reach an upper floor. So I climbed aboard with Jedi, my suitcase and a purse. The suitcase had wheels, which kept it completely off balance, but I wrestled it aboard and started the climb upward.

When the escalator had climbed one or two steps, I realized that Jedi's feet could easily get caught in the machinery. So I picked her up to carry her upward. At that point, my suitcase went rolling downward, clattering loudly along the way. It landed on a woman who was climbing aboard the escalator. She would have fallen, had the gentleman with her, not deftly caught her before she reached the floor. At that point, shaken by it all, I dropped my purse. An assortment of lipsticks, combs, my wallet, loose change and other paraphernalia went flying all over the escalator, some of it flying upward, some of it going downward. With my arms full of Jedi, there was little I could do to retrieve my belongings. My suitcase had opened and a grand assortment of clothing was spread on the station floor.

At this point, the people of Chicago...or wherever these travelers had come from...showed the generous spirit of Americans in a crisis. Laughing at the sight of me standing at the upper level with my dog, they went about the business of retrieving my possessions. My suitcase was repacked, my purse located and everything that could be found, including my wallet, put back in place. I felt like crying, but their laughter and good nature made this impossible. Even the woman who had been knocked over treated the incident like a good joke.

Wherever I have traveled with Jedi, wherever fate...and a limited income...has directed me, I have found most people to be courteous and helpful. Some of them look at Jedi, who doesn't look a thing like a Service Dog, and broad smiles appear on their faces. You see, Service Dogs that pull wheelchairs and pick up dropped articles are usually serene and complacent. Hearing Dogs are live wires. They are alert to everything and, if there is anything Jedi loves, it is people. Her tail is a perpetual motion machine, her love is spilled out to anyone around her.

She has now traveled on planes, trains and on car trips. The only method I haven't yet tried is a journey by ship, and that will take place soon. Some of the companies provide rolls of sod and spread them in a corner of the upper decks for the dog to use. One company told me, "You just take her upstairs and enjoy the view. We'll do the swabbing!"

So, if we are so courteous, so helpful to strangers, so ready with smiles, why are we such a divided nation? Surely we can find common ground and a leader who will heal some of the wounds and find some way to peace. Perhaps we should extend the blessed Christmas season throughout the year and say, "Merry Christmas" to each other in July or March.

My father would have had no part of it. Everyone who entered through his door had to sit at his table and enjoy a plate of food. If my mother had fed fifty people an hour before, she still prepared food for a new arrival. It was their way, and I believe it is the way that God intended us to be.

With that thought in mind, I wish everyone everywhere a Merry Christmas. May you be with your loved ones, may your stomach be full and your heart be filled with love and kindness. Let's take time to remember those in the military, far from home and filled with the loneliness and nostalgia that a holiday far from friends and family can bring. We are all in this world together, brothers and sisters. My father, "Pop", would have said, "Quit your fussin'. Sit down and eat!"