We traveled by overnight train with a Pullman car and a family sleeping compartment. Prior to boarding in Richmond at Broad Street Station we had driven up from Newport News and had dinner at the FFV Restaurant across Broad from the station. I remember being starved by the time we got to eat and, although only five, I ate a half a fried chicken for dinner. After boarding, we settled in and watched the world pass by on the rails and I picked out the Capitol from the Washington Station when we stopped to change engineers. Afterwards, I slept well until awakened by our porter, per Dad’s request, which allowed us time to have breakfast in the dining car prior to our arrival at Penn Station.
Upon exiting the train station, my mouth was wide open as I looked skyward and realized I was at the bottom of a canyon of huge buildings, the likes of which I had never seen before. And before me, just up the street was the Empire State Building and all I could say was “wow.” My dad hurried me along to the waiting taxi, telling me he would be taking us up that very building in the afternoon. After checking us in at the Barbizon Plaza, bordering Central Park, I looked down at the scene and was fascinated to see the forest in the middle of the city, or so it seemed. And then we had a light lunch at the hotel before going to the Empire State Building for a ride to the top and the observation deck. There was a soda fountain there and after standing lifted by dad at the rail, I felt like I was in an airplane that was anchored to the ground as we had an ice cream treat before we rode back down to sea level. It was all simply amazing.
That evening we had dinner at Rockefeller Center overlooking the skaters and I was just overwhelmed by it all, but that was just the beginning of the evening, for we went to Madison Square Garden for their holiday rodeo extravaganza, headed by Gene Autry. This was the year 1952, the year in which Mr. Autry released his seasonal hit, “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” He actually rode right up to us seating at the rail and tousled my hair as my parents chuckled and whispered to him “thank you.” What a day.
Saturday was busy as well. We started at the Hayden Planetarium, then went to see Bellevue Hospital on the East River where Mom attended nursing school and Dad interned and we even had lunch with one of her best friends as a student nurse. What a nice lady she was and it was funny to watch talk about things at Bellevue just like she likely did as a student there. Then it was off to the Statue of Liberty and an interesting harbor tour before winding up the day with a nice dinner right there at the hotel. We had seen a lot and Mom and Dad enjoyed showing us. We would take a couple of more trips in the future and while each trip was fun, this first one for me was oh, so special.
We had to leave early Sunday to go home on the train and I enjoyed watching the changing scenery flying by as we headed back toward Richmond. The drive from Richmond to Newport News seemed like eternity and we were all tired, but arriving back just after dark, I knew I had just experienced a weekend I’d never forget and I also knew that I was a very fortunate boy to have such a special trip. When Dad died a short four years later, the memories of such special times always stayed close to my heart and when I write such a story, I am reminded of him particularly at this time of year, for it was on November 28, 1956 when he died suddenly. I am reminded of those great words in the song made famous by the great Bob Hope with one simple word addition, “Thanks for the Memories,” DAD! What a great way it was to start one of my most memorable holiday seasons.