When my husband, Sean, was in eighth grade, his class planned a field trip to New York City. The trip, of course, was a monumental event for kids living near Philadelphia back in the 1980s and would cost $80. His parents, John and Rosemary, whose only experience with the Big Apple at that point had come through the nightly news and the movie, West Side Story, were anxious about sending him there, so they offered him $80 to stay home, which he gladly accepted. Everyone was happy. Sean, who had no interest in New York at 13, had $80 in his back pocket, and his parents did not have to worry themselves sick about the possibility of his being ensnared in a gang war, knife-fight, shoot-out… Broadway dance-off.... or any such crime scenes that they envisioned when they received the permission slip.
My father-in-law, John, passed away this May, and he was an extraordinary man and grandfather, as equally eager at all times of the day and night to drop whatever he was doing to lend a hand, as to engage in a heated, one-man argument about the frivolousness of using a chainsaw to cut down a tree. (Evidently, anyone with a sound mind and respectable work ethic knows that an ax does a better job.) He was a pip, to put it simply - a fiery, gold-hearted pip, who was cracking jokes until his last breath and has been sorely missed ever since. What has been remarkable, however, is the cohesive way that the family has grieved, pulling closer, rather than pushing apart, strengthening the bonds instead of snipping the strings, and talking about him frequently to ensure that his grandchildren continue to carry him in their hearts. Certainly, such good grief has been the silver lining.
In August, for our daughter's 8th birthday, we decided to head up to American Girl Place in New York City, so I suggested to Sean that he should ask his mom if she wanted to come with us. Rosemary, who does not suffer even a whit of wanderlust, has spent her life perfectly content in southeastern Pennsylvania, venturing out only on a yearly excursion to Ocean City, New Jersey, and another to Hershey Park; however, for some reason, perhaps because of her love for the movie, An Affair to Remember, which features the Empire State Building, or maybe because we thought an adventure would be good for her, it seemed like a marvelous idea to ask her to join us, even though we did not expect her to agree. Well, you could have knocked us over with a feather when she swiftly and easily asked what time she should be ready, and the kids were thrilled (and amused) that “Marmee” was ready to take a bite of the Big Apple.
For her sake, we made the journey far more direct and strategic than our usual, whirlwind road trips. We parked in Princeton, took the train for safety and efficiency, and even had a mental copy of what big-time planners might refer to as an “itinerary”. It seemed crazy to us, the chronically spontaneous, but it all went very smoothly, and she clearly enjoyed the experience of shopping and sightseeing in Manhattan. At night, when we were full from a hearty meal at an Irish Pub, we walked with the birthday girl and her new doll past the Empire State Building and made our way to Penn Station. The trip was a complete success until it went a smidgeon askew with the knife-fight on the train ride home.
Penn Station was jam-packed with so many people that I thought I was going to lose a grip on the little one's hand and have her carried off in the sea of strangers. Behind the closed doors that led to the tracks, we waited for what felt like an eternity, as I tugged on the child’s arm to keep her close and made sure the big kids were within reach, as well. Marmee took it like a pro, held her own, and didn’t appear to be affected by the pushy mob, even though she kept close tabs on the kids.
When the doors opened, the entire wave of people crashed down the steps and pressed toward the train cars to capture good seats. Sean shouted for us to run to the first car, so all seven of us dashed to the very front of the double-decker train where there were plenty of seats on the lower level. As the train pulled out of the station, we relaxed comfortably and contentedly, Marmee and the three teens on one side of the aisle, and me, Sean, the 8-year-old and her new doll on the other side.
Within a few minutes, however, we could hear a disturbance above us. Even I, through my cochlear implant, could sense trouble by the tone of the voices that were tunneling down to our level. The cries grew louder and closer, and suddenly people who had fled down the steps from the floor above us tore through our car, not slowing down, but screaming to us, “Run!”
Our reaction was ambiguous at first, as we tried to process what was happening and determine whether or not we were experiencing a real-life situation. We jumped up but stood still, snatched up our belongings, but didn’t move, then almost hid beneath our seats until Ashley, one of our teens, assertively commanded, “Run! Now!” With that, we bolted out the door with Marmee in the lead, charging through car after car. Hoping that the doors would close behind us, the teens and I looked back and saw a giant man on top of another man with a knife, and he was screaming, “Get help!”
We must have run through six or seven cars before the train came to a stop in Newark, where we waited in total silence, watching out the window as police boots ran toward the car from which we had escaped. Eerily, without announcement or explanation, after a lengthy pause, the train once again began to roll along the track toward home.
There was nothing in the newspaper, nothing online. We have no idea what happened. All we know is that Marmee’s first trip to New York City was, by every stretch of the imagination, an affair to remember.
*Wishing you always God’s blessings of strength, courage, laughter, joy, hope, and memorable moments with the people you love.*