Amtrak doesn’t specifically state that lacrosse sticks must be checked as baggage. Ski equipment, snowboards, golf clubs and bicycles are specifically excluded from being carried on, but 72 inch long lacrosse sticks, helmets and large gloves that look like they’re made for a robot are not. I was comforted by this thought as I took my younger son, carrying his lacrosse stick in a bag that could have held skis, to the Amtrak station for his return to Lynchburg College, in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Riding the rails on Amtrak, my son would make a stop in Washington, DC, then cross the Potomac River into Virginia, stopping at Alexandria, Manassas, Culpeper, Charlottesville and, finally, Lynchburg.
It occurred to me that I had once traveled on the same tracks, but had gone all the way to Biloxi, Mississippi. I was about my son’s age, in the Air Force, and returning from my first leave over the Thanksgiving holidays. Headed for Keesler Air Force Base, I traveled in uniform because in those days servicemen traveling in uniform got a pretty good discount. Plus, as long as you had enough money for one drink in the club car, the World War II vets, now businessmen and traveling salesmen, would offer to buy you a drink, or several if it was a long ride. Most of them were still in their thirties at the time and they knew how to ride trains. (For historical references about this period and consumption of adult beverages, consult AMC’s cable series Mad Men.) Also, there were, even then, plenty of college kids riding on that route, and I found myself sitting in a coach car full of coeds. Unfortunately, they all got off in Virginia.
Something I didn’t know then is that ninety-nine years earlier some other young guys who lived in our general neighborhood rode in an old steam locomotive train over some of the same route that I had traveled – and that my son would travel. They were Daniel, Samuel and Joseph Duvall, three brothers from a farm in Crownsville, Maryland who had joined the Confederate Army and were being transported from Richmond to Staunton, Virginia, from whence they would ultimately march to Winchester, Virginia and on to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Of the three, only Daniel would survive the war. It is lamentable that in September of 1862 they couldn’t meet the coeds of 1961, now the grandmothers of 2009, as I did. (Note: The exact part of the route the Duvall brothers and I traveled on, and that my son would travel on, is the stretch in Virginia from Gordonsville to Charlottesville.)
Here’s what I think about. The steel rails, spikes and ties have probably been replaced, but the railbed is pretty much in exactly the same place. We, the subjects of this piece, are separated in time, but with a certainty we all traveled over the same narrow passage – that invisible, definable, horizontal tunnel of space linking past and present. Somehow, we are connected, if only in a state of mind, and I wonder if we left a trace of ourselves there that’s untouchable and unseeable.
At the moment, however, I am no longer thinking of history. I am thinking, “Did the lacrosse stick get there?” Oh, yeah and my son?