Monday, November 05, 2007

The Train Trip

The commuter train sways and clacks its way downtown. It’s the first time in years I’ve been to the large port city of Vancouver. I’ve grown far too fond of simpler ways in a smaller town farther up the Fraser Valley. At home in the valley the fragrances, and often downright awful smells of local agricultural, waft into our two measly shopping malls. So when necessity dictates, and I must join the ranks of those who make the daily trip en masse into the big city, it's an adventure.

Like any country hick who wants to blend in, I buy my coffee and snap open my newspaper and head downtown, pretending I have a wall-wall glass office in some corporate tower overlooking the Burrard Inlet. I fit right in. At least I think I do.

On the way home I scramble for a seat. The one I get faces backwards and I look out the window at passing scenes from the viewpoint of where I’m coming from. The track curves and I see the last car dragging behind. Maybe I'm tired from today's seminar. Or maybe, because I'm looking backwards, I feel memories pulling at me. Or maybe it has more to do with our youngest, nineteen-year-old Rob, who announced the other night that he’d like to move out with some friends of his? Nice boys from church. They'd make good roommates. But all the same, he’s our baby.

I was nineteen when my mother and ‘us’ three kids came out to Vancouver to start all over again. Thirty-one years ago. You do the math. The first three years in Vancouver were filled with the loneliness of losing all that was familiar. It was a complicated move. Family situations often are. There was the poverty of a single-parent family, new schools to be found for my siblings, new jobs for mother and me. And then, for me, the next three years held the life-changing episode of getting pregnant by a guy I could never marry, and making the choice to relinquish my baby to adoption. When you say it fast it’s not so bad. No need to explain that’s why I write these days.

The train whistle blows, the conductor announces we’ve reached the first station. I watch husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, singles, leave the train in droves. They bustle to parked cars, waiting buses, loved ones in idling SUV's. The conductor announces the doors will close. The chime goes. The train pulls away from the station and picks up speed.

It was twenty-eight years ago I signed up for a course at a Bible College in Vancouver. By then I’d learned some hard lessons giving up a child. Quite simply I wanted to do things God’s way from then on. It was the ah-ha moment I’ve never regretted. I met my husband at that Bible College.

The train passes a road that leads to one of our first apartments, twenty-four years ago. It was one of the worst places we ever lived, a dark, damp, dismal basement suite. But somehow looking back I miss those days when David and I were young and our first two kids, Lana and Kyle, weren’t even in school yet. Close to the next stop the train passes under a walkway bridge that takes pedestrians down to a park. We have photographs at home, of Rob when he was three years old running to catch up to Lana and Kyle, crossing that bridge to get down to the beach.

The clacking over the tiles takes on a hollow resonance. The train crosses the Pitt River. Soon we’ll be in Maple Ridge.

Rob was born in Maple Ridge hospital, and all three of the kids started kindergarten and went to high school in that town. We still lived in Maple Ridge when I was reunited with Sarah, my birth daughter eight years ago. It was only seven years ago that I stood on our front porch and realized Kyle’s eyebrows had reached a higher altitude than mine. Of course now they're all a head taller than me, and Kyle has made me a grandmother.

The train leaves Maple Ridge and the view outside changes. Less city. Less ugly backdoors to businesses, train yards. We’re back in the country. I see logs stacked by the Fraser River. The train pulls into Mission City, the last station on the line. My husband is there with the car for our forty-five minute drive deeper into our valley and to our home.

The trip has left me unsettled. I remind myself there’s still more life to come, more graduations—God willing, more weddings in God’s timing, more grandchildren. I sit beside David as he drives toward the lights of our small town in the distance. I much prefer this facing forward.

"Do you want to stop off somewhere for dinner," he says, "so we don't have to cook? I fed the dog before I left, the cats are okay."

I smile. "Yeah, that would be nice."