Saga of a country sister

LIFE in the country takes on a gentle predictability, which is probably why the arrival of the mail highlights the day. One pleasant, warm afternoon in August was to be a very special day. I was on my knees, trowel in hand, coaxing weeds out of the marigold bed, as Tom drove up the road on his appointed rounds. At our mailbox, he honked, waved, and deposited a bright adventure. Well, maybe it didn't look like an adventure, but that's the way with adventures . . . they surprise.

It was a post card of Seattle with snow-topped Mt. Rainier in the distance. Unlike the usual long, newsy letters from my California-based sister, it said: ''The unexpected! Here we are in Seattle. Did I see you hoeing the garden and pruning blackberry vines Thursday morning when we flew over?'' (How did she know?)

''Bob had family business here very suddenly so we came up. We'll spend today and Monday touring the area now that the mundane part of the trip is over, and head back by Amtrak Tuesday, departing Seattle 11 a.m. Will send a happy thought your way as we come through Albany, Ore., at 5 p.m. Sorry we can't stop over, but must be home Wednesday. Love, Doras (and Bob).''

I slipped the card into my pocket. Back at the flower bed, I attacked the weeds furiously. Outrageous! I hadn't seen Sis for months, and now, today, she would be within 40 miles of us, and I would miss her. It just wasn't fair! I uprooted three more dandelions before smoothing my ruffled feathers.

Of course, being reasonable about it all, I well knew the train wheels barely quit rolling in Albany. Stopover: three minutes - top. Yet. . . .

I ran to the garage where Glen was puttering on his current invention. Gasping from the exertion, I read the post card to him. ''Do you want to do something absolutely crazy?'' I asked.

''Why not?'' he replied, putting down his tools. Allowing an hour to cover the country roads, we would have time for a quick change of clothes. Then we were on our way.

There were a half-dozen passengers waiting when we pulled up at the station with five minutes to spare. We walked briskly toward the tracks, planning our strategy. There would be little we could do beside hurry down the length of the train hoping for a glimpse of Bob and Doras in one of the windows.

The loudspeaker blared overhead. Amtrak was two minutes late. The train would stop for three minutes.

How could two minutes seem such a long time while we waited? And three minutes such a short time to find our family?

Then we heard it coming. The engine roared past us, hauling several cars beyond where we stood, and trailing a longer line of cars the other direction. Which way to go? There was no time for indecision. We hurried along at a dog trot toward the rear of the train, peering hopefully at the windows above. We must have used up a minute by now. Where were they?

Suddenly I heard a shout far down the track where the last car had stopped. ''Ma'am. Ma'am.'' The young train attendant was running in our direction. Did she mean me, or somebody else?

Then I saw Bob and Doras hurrying toward us behind her. We met alongside the train in an explosion of joy. Doras and I were hugging each other, giggling like schoolgirls.

''I was hoping you'd come,'' she laughed. ''Only you two would be crazy enough to try it!''

''Insanity helps,'' I admitted. ''Besides, I love you.''

''I love you, too, Sis.''

The men exchanged warm handshakes. We women indulged the luxury of hugs and kisses all around. The four of us babbled happily at the same time, squeezing hours of conversation into seconds. None of this had to make sense. We were willing conspirators in this heady foolishness.

''I'm sorry . . . .'' The train attendant broke into our chatter, her hand on the train door. Doras and Bob scrambled aboard as the door slid shut. Now the train was already moving them out of our sight. We waved at nobody in particular and everybody in general.

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