Last Train to Rome – A Reminisce for Father’s Day…
Half-way through the rail car with platform speakers glaring, he turned and waved us off. Snapping around, we made for the exit stumbling, tripping, and jostling until we finally planted our feet on the platform from whence we moments before came. Turning to look, I noticed my father stuck in the cabin corridor attempting to hop over people and backpacks. At the same time, the corner of my eye caught the conductor raising his paddle with his whistle at the ready. It wasn’t seconds to go and out my father lunged as the train door slammed and the whistle blew. And with that, the last train to Rome departed that late August hot evening.
It was 1984 and my father and I were on a 21-day rail excursion through Western Europe. Traveling from Madrid, we reached the French Mediterranean border town of Cerbère with the aim of catching that last train to Rome by sundown. However, much to our chagrin, with windows fogged and corridors crammed, the thought of spending the next 24 hours on that direct express to The Eternal City was overwhelming. At the last moment we decided to “jump ship” to more “comfortable” ground.
No problem we thought, we’ll grab a hotel in this quaint town by the sea where people skinny-dipped in the harbor under the watchful eyes of tourists, who packed the canopy-covered, patio-lit cafes. We’ll make the best of it and take the next train in the morning.
For those that know the vagaries of rail travel, it’s not uncommon to meet fellow passengers and share a few miles of friendship. Neil and Laura from Texas fitted that bill. With us since that day’s early-morning Madrid departure, they too found themselves in the same predicament. So together we made an exodus of the musty rail station through the thick muggy air in search of a night’s keep.
Carrying sticker-covered luggage with passport-clenched fingers, we soon discovered that not a single hotel had vacancy (this was before the internet). This mysterious James Bondesque village, perched on the edge of the Pyrenees, overlooking what the Romans called Mare Nostrum or “Our Sea”, was solidly booked out!
On short shrift, we too then joined the watchful tourists in the cafes and settled onto a patio to observe the hours tick by, among other things. Sometime around midnight, with last call already declared and many gone to their rooms, the order came to pay-up and move on.
With no place to go we returned to the station. Neil, Laura, my father and I settled onto a wooden bench that would be home base for the night ahead. Making his late rounds, the local gendarme introduced himself. Minutes later, he promptly extricated a few local drunks who seemingly knew the place better than we did. He proudly announced that he’d keep an eye on us allowing us to stay after closing.
The night carried on and we counted the hours on the clock waiting for that morning train to whisk us away. As the conversation ebbed and flowed, it came to our attention that my father slipped away. Not knowing where he went and not without some concern, I got up to search the place. It wasn’t long before I found him sleeping on a baggage conveyor belt at the back of the station. Several hours earlier, it was there we officially entered the French Republic through customs!
My father, there he was, snoring like a newborn baby in the back of a small-town railroad station deep in France. Without complaint, grievance nor lament, there he was making the best of not an ideal situation. I still remember the laughs Neil, Laura and I had and the smiles it brought to our faces as we saw him there. Not wishing to disturb, we let him be and returned to our bench. At least one of us was getting a good night’s sleep!
Many years have come and gone since my father’s passing and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of him and the many fond memories he left behind. And when times get tough, as they sometimes do, I always hearken back to my father’s way of making the best of any situation. It taught me that it’s not what happens that’s important, but how we react to what happens that is. Yes, a father’s power can truly be amazing!
So on this day commemorating fathers, I wish you all a Happy Father’s Day, and may you never forget to take that last train to Rome…
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