Take the train to adventure

Published 12:02am Friday, May 18, 2012

For toddlers, life is just one big adventure with no beginning and no end.

Whether it is standing out in the middle of the backyard staring into the starry sky or looking at the constellation of freckles on my wife’s face, every moment of my 3-year-old’s world continues to be an adventure. He embraces each new discovery with the enthusiasm of a new-world explorer.

Sometime in adulthood, the idea of exploration changed for me. It must have started when I was a teen, but somewhere along the way I started skipping over the simple fascinations of life and started looking for ways to escape from the everyday world of life and work.

As a teen, I so looked forward my family’s annual vacation to the mountains, the beach or some far off amusement park as an escape from the confines of the small-town South. Just the anticipation of vacation was exciting and still is.

This spring was no different when my wife and I started planning our first family vacation. We have been on a few trips without our son since he was born, but never the three of us together.

When I told Gibson weeks ago that we were going to Chicago, he stared blankly for a second only to return to his toy train set. He saw the look of excitement on Dad’s face but as far as he knew, Chicago was just another place on the other side of Natchez.

It wasn’t until I told him that we were going to take a train to get there that he expressed any mild interest.

Gibson has been a fan of trains since he got his first train engine and started watching “Thomas the Train” videos. So my wife and I thought it would be great to take him on a real train ride, from Brookhaven to the Windy City. We even thought he would get a kick out of seeing buildings much taller than the Eola Hotel or Natchez Regional Medical Center.

We were right, mostly.

The look of surprise on Gibson’s face as the train lurched forward and the whistle blew loudly was priceless. For the first hour of the 14-hour trip, he kept his nose pressed against the cabin window.

The biggest hit of the trip was the ladder to the top bunk. I swear Gibson logged more miles going up and down it than the train did that night.

In Chicago, Gibson experienced things he had only seen in books or on video — tunnels, subways, buses and very tall buildings. He was fascinated with those things as well as birds, flowers, rain and people — all things he knew from home.

Despite the aquarium, the science museum filled with planes, tractors and spaceships, Gibson gave the best reviews to the playground just down the street from our hotel.

Did he care if he was in Chicago or not? Probably not. Did enjoy the trip? Each and every bit.

Unlike Dad, who found it necessary to get away from Natchez, Gibson was experiencing all of life as one giant adventure.

Chicago may have been 800 miles away, but in his mind it was just down the train track. There really was no separation.

When our return train pulled into the Brookhaven train station last week, I must admit I expressed a little disappointment. Our first family vacation was over.

For Gibson, it really was no problem. After all, his journey was just beginning, and he was taking his Dad each and every step of the way.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.