Last week, I attended my sister’s 90th birthday. We filled the room with her five kids and my four. Throw in some spouses and it was a big gathering. Wonderful.

My sister was at the head of the table enjoying a piece of beautiful birthday cake, even though she had two black eyes and a swollen nose. So what? We were tough kids. Nothing stopped us from a gathering of family.

Two days before the party, she tripped in her apartment and fell on an amethyst geode, one of many in her collection.

She picked herself up and got dressed for the party.

We grew up taking care of ourselves. We were reliable. You could depend on us.

At ages 6 and 9, we were escorted to our seats on a Southern Pacific passenger train in St. Louis to travel three nights and four days by ourselves. We were going to California to live with our parents in Napa. We had been staying with our grandparents in southern Illinois, where we had warm beds and good food from the farm while our parents looked for work and a place.

The Great Depression forced us apart to live. Mom chose Juarez Street in Napa, where she had grown up with her Italian parents. It was a new world for us, a wonderful memory. We were not orphans. We were taught good manners and how to brush our teeth and braid our hair.

On our train ride, we were watched by the first black man, the conductor, that I had ever seen. He became our mother: ie time for bed, brush your teeth, comb your hair, don’t run.

If we got a little noisy, we were handed four or five comic books and escorted to our seats. It was 1938 or 1940, so I think it was “Sniffles and Mary Jane” and “Casper the Friendly Ghost.”

It’s been a great ride. We have multiplied the world with good kids and fondly remember fried chicken at the farm and that wonderful train ride across the country. When we repeated the trip in our late teens, it was truly a sentimental journey. I’d like to do it again.

Barbara Ciappoini


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