04:06:08 pm on
Wednesday 13 Nov 2019

A Little Train Ride
AJ Robinson

This past summer, while on vacation in northern Georgia, we had quite a lot of fun. On activity we enjoyed, in particular, was a little train ride. The train, rather small and not at all modern, rides some old rails through the beautiful Georgia countryside north to the Tennessee border.


The train ride was nice.

We sat in open-air rail cars that afforded us not only a great view, but the sounds and aromas of nature, too. We rode through rolling hills, along babbling brooks. We saw deer and other animals along the way.

The train even accommodated the scooter Jo Ann, my wife, uses; this was a big help for her. They had a lift that got her and other handicapped people onto the train. There was a separate car where they could sit if they wanted to stay in their chairs or must.

When we arrived at the end station, we found that we weren’t quite in Tennessee. The train stopped almost literally on the border. In fact, the little town had signs mounted on walls and markers painted on the sidewalk and pavement to show you exactly where the state line was located.

We moved from one state to the other as we walked down the sidewalk, crossed the streets and even paused to take pictures of us standing on the line. Damian, our foster son, and Rachel, foster daughter of our friends, Brian and MJ, were totally enthralled with everything. Once more, we exposed them to a great many firsts in their lives: first train ride, first trip to Tennessee and first time they ever straddled a state line, which was the biggie.


A literal border between states.

Never, in their lives, had Rachel or Damian seen such a thing: the literal border between two distinct entities. It gave them a sense of who they were and where they lived, especially Damian. As he’s Hispanic, which is not exactly “kosher” in the America of Donald Trump, he often deals with feelings of not belonging, not to mention outright hostility from so-called real Americans that tell him to go back to Mexico. When he points out that he’s an American, they practically growl at him. As if, how dare he contradict their lily-white view of our country?

Yet, standing there at the Georgia-Tennessee border, being able to stand in both states at the same time and cross easily from one to the other, Damian noticed it wasn’t merely the lack of a wall separating them. He saw, as he looked around at the streets and buildings and most especially the people, that there was no difference between one state and the other. They, we, were all the same.

It helped Damian to understand that he truly is an American, no matter what some racist, redneck, yahoo jerk says to him. This one small visual lesson on how alike we all are did more to help him than any classroom lecture on civics or anything Jo Ann or I could do or say to drive that message home. At that moment, I knew that our little train ride was well worth the time and effort it took for us to go on it.


The biggest gift

We stopped at a local diner for lunch and checked out a few gift shops before heading back to the train for the return trip. Maybe it’s silly, but I couldn’t stop smiling the whole time. The big gift of the day was the lesson Damian learned.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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