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He gave me the world

The year was 1962 when 10 million people visited the Northwest city of Seattle between April and October to attend the World’s Fair. I was one of them.

This will give away my age, but I was 14 at the time and about as naïve as a 2-year-old.  My father was determined to teach me about the world, so he and his brother sent my cousin, Ann, who was 15, and I to learn. What better place to find the world than the World’s Fair.

Another uncle and sister lived in Seattle, so it wasn’t as if they were throwing us into the unknown. In those days, America was safer, and the brothers had no doubts when loading two young teenage girls on board a train in Nashville, chugging its way to Chicago, then onto Washington by ourselves.

The purpose of the trip was not only to discover a world outside of Tennessee, but also to learn how to travel, budget money, and navigate the unfamiliar. Dad and Uncle Bob instructed us to make our own decisions, explore as a twosome, and, most of all, be brave.

Today this type of trip for two young girls would be unheard of, and for parents who decide such a thing, they would probably find themselves accused of child abuse. But that month in 1962 was one of the best gifts my father ever bestowed me.

Ann and I arrived in the massive, iconic Union Station in Chicago to change trains to the Northern Pacific Railway after sleeping in a cozy Pullman coach through the night. The minute we arrived at the station, my jaw dropped, and fear gripped both of us.

Ann, the more refined and intellectual one, instructed me not to leave the luggage so that she could find where we were to board. I knew at that moment, I would never see her again, and my parents would eventually find me in Chicago years into the future. That is until a gentleman in a red coat saw me shaking.

“Miss, can I assist you?” he gently stated.

After explaining how my cousin left to find our train, and about our trip, a broad smile crossed his face.

“Good Lord, child, where are you from?” his smile widened.

“Tennessee!”I exclaimed, not understanding what that had to do with the nature of my immediate circumstances.

“Sweetheart, your southern twang is going to benefit you.” He laughed with glee.

I did not comprehend what he meant, but he loaded our luggage onto a cart and found my cousin. When I gave him a shiny new nickel and thanked him profusely,  he walked away, looking at his coin and laughing hysterically.

“Lynn, our parents want us to stay in the budget, so what do you think about trading in our sleeping car tickets for day coach?” Ann asked.

“Well, it’s four days, but if we have extra money to buy stuff, I’m in!”

And just like that, we spent those travel days in the same clothes, slept sitting up, and ate only turkey sandwiches the entire time.

We traveled across the country, taking in all the beauty of America. We seemed suspended in the air as the train moved around the mountains at the Continental Divide. We passed through cities, open acres that stretched for miles and winded through trees taller than I ever imagined.

Before we stepped off the train in Washington, I realized being friendly and talking to folks is the way to learn about all Americans. Even though our accents may vary, we are connected because of this extraordinary land we call home.

“Good gosh!” Uncle Paul shouted as we met him with a hug.

“How long has it been since you had baths and why?”

For one-month, Ann and I navigated our way to Canada by boat, walked through the exhibits presented at the fair, rode the rides free because of my accent, walked in the snow on Mt. Rainier, ate enough salmon and cherries to set a record, and grew up.

Toward the end of our trip, it was time to go to the top of the Space Needle erected for the World’s Fair. When we approached the lines to the elevators and looked upward to the top, it overwhelmed us.

At the last minute, my cousin, who is usually very brave, decided not to go.  I begged, but to no avail. I decided to experience it alone.  After shaking a bit, I reached the summit. I felt the slight movement of the revolving needle while looking at the vista before me.

I knew then that no matter what, fear would never stop me from trying new things, being southern was a gift, and that my father gave me the world.