It was some fifty-seven years ago, I believe, though it could have been fifty-eight. I doubt that it matters much whether I was four or five. I do know that it was before I started to school, which it means I could not have been more than five. My brother, Paul, would have been in the second or third grade and his class was taking a field trip. Somehow, I was invited to go along. I don’t know if they needed one more brat in the group to qualify for the group rate or if it was a matter of Paul asking if his little brother could tag along or what. Whatever it was, I was going, too, and that was pretty much all I needed to know.
This wasn’t a bunch of kids loading up into the big yellow bus or into a bunch of parents’ and other indentured drivers’ cars. No, sirree, Bob! We were riding the train!
It was the first of only two train rides in my life. I don’t mean “my life up to that time;” I mean my life up to this time. We loaded into the passenger car and rode about sixteen miles to Hopkinsville. I probably sat with my mouth gaping for the entire trip, staring out the window as we passed from Todd County to Christian County. Fence rows and brush lines zipped by along the tracks. Occasionally, we could see the highway. We rode through Pembroke on what seemed to me to be a straight line to Hoptown.
There, we unloaded and toured the Coca-Cola bottling plant. A mesmerizing trail of glass bottles clinked and clanked their way around the twists and turns of their guiding rail. Each bottle filled with bubbling brown liquid and caps were sealed onto each in a seemingly endless procession of carbonated beveraging. It didn’t seem possible that there could be that much Coke in the world!
There was, though, enough that each of us got a bottle at the end of the tour. Probably the old ten-ounce bottle. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if it was a five-ounce bottle; I’d ridden a train with my big brother, watched the magic of modern machinery and had my very own, don’t have to share it with anyone bottle of Coca-Cola. I could have been the King of Spain for all I cared, standing there in the spring sun on the train depot, taking slow sips and gawking at limestone and asphalt.
It wasn’t all that different from a group of community college students on their first trip to Kansas City, Greeley, Chicago or New York. They’re older and taller, and may work harder to conceal their wonder and amazement, but inside, they’ll be little kids just off their first train ride. Their worlds will have just gotten a little larger and the borders of their minds stretched a bit more.
And that is a good thing. There are not many minds in the world that couldn’t use a bit of that, even one as old as mine.