Your attention please. Your train has been delayed while the conductor steps off momentarily. We thank you for your patience.
It was 101 degrees in Chicago and only slightly cooler in the subterranean tunnel where our red line train was delayed, stuck between two stations, which ones I had no idea as I had paid no attention to where we were. I looked to Jack, across the crowded aisle, sitting with Kate, who only shrugged his shoulders.
"I have never heard this message before. The conductor got off the train? For what, a cigarette?"
The woman across from me smiled knowingly, "oh this happens all the time, really."
Really? To remove a dead body from the tracks? Or maybe to pick up some treasure he'd hidden down here, in the bowels of the city? Perhaps he was lost and stopped to ask for directions?
"No need to worry, when you ride the train all the time, as I do, these things happen", said the local.
When you ride the train all the time, as I do, the conductor stays on the train and moves me from station to station, without being told to do so. While not quite the Titanic, I still felt like maybe this guy was supposed to go down with the ship. Why leave us all here to melt in this deeply buried tunnel of malodorous humanity?
But this is not a story about my paranoia, or age related claustrophobic tendencies. It's a story about Mary, Maurice Sendak and wonderful books.
After three or four minutes my cool exterior was wilting. Mary, sitting next to me, reached into my bag and dug out one of two books she knows she will always find in my bag: Pierre, by Maurice Sendak. When I began to read she said, "no Mom, let me read to you this time", and she began.
Soon she was reading, not from the pages of the well worn book, but from memory, reciting the words that had been read to her over and over, from the story that has been in my bag, next to Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice, for as long as she knows. For years, when faced with a tired child or a long delay, anything that required a distraction from the sometimes much too big world around them, I brought out the books and we would retreat, for just a while, into Sendak's world, which proved to be a constant and comforting place to be. As it still does, for a mom growing quite nervous, abandoned in an hot and dark subway.
The moral of Pierre's story is to care; Maurice Sendak's, to create, and mine, to read to your children, because someday they might just read to you.
Pierre, A Continuous Tale, by Maurice Sendak
Chicken Soup with Rice, by Maurice Sendak