"Midnight Train To Georgia" (1973), Amtrak, Burger King, Chevy Impala, Clover Donuts, Collins Family, Extended Family, Fucious Collins, Gladys Knights and The Pips, Harrison Georgia, Horses, Imogene Collins, Krispy Kreme Donuts, Mckinley Collins, Pigs, Respite, Rural Georgia, Sow, Steam Locomotive, Trip, Vacation, Whopper
Forty years ago this week, my father took me and my brother Darren on the biggest trip of our growing up years. Especially since I was just five and Darren was only seven. We went to see our extended Collins clan in Georgia, spread between Atlanta and Harrison, the latter a small town of ex-farms in the east central portion of the state. Macon is the nearest city, with Augusta about ninety minutes away.
It was paid for courtesy of my Mom, who likely did it to give herself a vacation from Jimme’s weekly drinking, days-on-end-abandonment, followed by verbal abuse and threats. And the occasional physical fight, as the month before, after a July 4th party Mom threw, my father came in late, became jealous, and went after her with a meat cutting knife, only to end up stabbed in the torso and leg. All with the Mount Vernon police coming over to 425 South Sixth, and, upon finding Jimme in the stairwell suffering from his wounds, began laughing hysterically (more on that at a later date). I’m sure that Mom needed a break from Darren and me as well.
We went down to the city via Metro-North, took the Shuttle (in all likelihood) to Penn Station, and then the Amtrak to Atlanta. I don’t remember much of the trip itself. It was an overnight affair, and Mom had bought us overnight tickets, enabling us to sleep on cots or small beds, I guess. I do remember us pulling out of Washington, DC and seeing the Capitol from a distance after crossing into Virginia.
Then, after seemingly endless forests and nothing to do but sleep or watch my father sleep, we pulled into Atlanta sometime the next morning. After getting off the Amtrak and watching it depart, an old smokestack steam pulled in, blowing its whistle as loud as anything I’d ever heard. I practically jumped out of my skin, prompting some White guy who worked on the tracks to tell me, “That’s okay, that’s just ol’ [?] blowin’ off steam.” I didn’t much like the White guy, either.
Our Uncle McKinley and one of our older cousins picked us up from the train station, drove us around West Atlanta, and then down to the family farm in Harrison. Along the way, we stopped at my cousin’s job at Burger King for Whoppers. Except they got me the Whopper Jr, which didn’t make me too happy. But then I got to ride in the front of my uncle’s ’73 green Chevy Impala, with all of its chrome and tan leather seats.
We got there late in the afternoon, but mostly what I remember was the smell of the rural area. I’d never been to a farm before, much less one that was still somewhat in operation. The next couple of days were the most memorable part of the Georgia visit for me. The first morning on the farm, I woke up, washed up, and stumbling into the dining area and kitchen, which seemed so vast. Wood paneling, rich dark colors and the strong smell of Maxwell House coffee were what penetrated my five-year-old mind that morning. I remember sitting on my grandfather Fucious’ lap while he asked me a few questions. Then he gave me this syrupy yet somewhat crisp and doughy glazed donut to eat. My grandfather was eating one of his own, to go with his strong and sugarless cup of coffee. It wasn’t as good as the Clover Donuts donuts I’d eaten, but this first experience with Krispy Kreme was pretty good. Darren had a jelly donut, with the jelly all around the corners of his mouth.
They tried to take us horseback riding, my grandmother Imogene and my Aunts Christene and Charity. It worked fine for Darren, but for me, not so much. The whinnying of the horse scared me, and when they lifted me up to put me on the saddle, I started to cry. My grandmother hugged me, and told me that it would be okay. Then, they grabbed one of the sows and let me ride on her for what was probably ten minutes, taking a couple of pictures and laughing at the same time.
A couple of nights later, I remember waking up in the middle of the night. There had been an accident involving my father, my cousin and my Uncle McKinley, and the green Impala was no more. Despite not wearing their seat belts, all three came out of the accident more or less unscathed. The next to last day of our time on the Collins family farm, my uncle drove up in a ’75 Chevy Impala, cream-colored and even more impressive.
It was a good trip, meeting my country-strange family, and the longest trip I’d go on until ’92, when I went to DC to visit a former high school classmate. it was also a welcome break from the constant fighting between Mom and Jimme.
My son, thankfully, has been going on trips since before his first birthday, although the flight he’ll take next week will be on his own, with his aunt meeting him at the destination gate.