【明報專訊】Sometime during the war, which is to say sometime in the 1940s, dressed in her very best mauve-coloured outfit, and carrying in her purse, her wallet and even in her shoes, all the money she had been able to scrape together since meeting Matt the previous winter, Vivian boarded a train in Milwaukee bound for the unknown: an army camp in the middle of Georgia. Matt was about to be sent overseas to help rid the world of Nazi tyranny, and he'd sent her a money order to buy a round-trip rail ticket. In the letter, he had asked Vivian to come to Georgia to marry him. Knowing it would be more than she could spend, she didn't even ask about the price of a seat in the sleeping car section. As it turned out, her reclining seat was comfortable enough.
The journey was to take seventeen to nineteen hours, but it was wartime and throughout the day and into the night her train pulled onto sidings to give way to trains carrying war material and troops. It was the start of summer, hot, and the only way to cool the carriage was by opening the windows, which everyone did soon after leaving the terminal. As it happened, the smoke from the engine flooded in to put a film of black, oily soot on everything and everyone. A porter appeared and tried closing the windows, but many of them were stuck and would stay up for the entire trip.
The hours passed slowly, and though she was unable to remove the engine's grime from her body and her clothing, she remained cheerful, chatting easily with a number of her fellow sufferers. She told them she was on a journey to get married, and though she had a million questions about Georgia and the south, no one seemed willing to express an opinion. Yes, she did harbour fears that she and Matt might be rushing into marriage at a time when he was about to be shipped overseas, but she refused to dwell on it. Still, there was no denying that whether he was sent to the east or to the west, it would not be long before he'd be in a war zone.
(To be continued)
(C) John Bell Smithback
■by John Bell Smithback