the girl on the train

June 8th, 2016


When I was little I took a train trip halfway across the country. It was at Christmastime. I remember it as a luxury, a measure of how modestly my family lived otherwise. The train seats were upholstered. I had a bag of brand-new puzzle books and snacks. The porter brought around pillows in creased pillowcases. They cost a dollar apiece to rent. It took three days to get from Union Station in Los Angeles to Austin, Texas.

The train traveled through the empty desert and mountains, across days and nights. We stopped at unfamiliar places in the dark and snow, at old depots in dying towns. People got on and off.

I was only six years old then, in 1962. I was not afraid. My sisters were with me, and my mother was across the aisle.

We got off the train on the third night and were met by the grandparents I hardly knew. My mother’s whole family was waiting to see us. They missed her so much and she lived so far away. Only lately have I realized how hard it was for my mother to miss her mother every day for so long.

I’ve been remembering this since last night when I heard the first woman to become the presidential nominee of a major party saying she wished her mother could be with her right now, a mother who taught her that she could grow up to be anything.

You may not like this particular girl. It doesn’t matter. Some of my own friends call her corrupt, a piece of shit, a snake, things that shock and horrify me, and not because she is a girl—no, not that. They always assure me it’s not because she’s a girl.

This morning I read an article about this girl’s mother, the one who inspired in her daughter such determination and courage. Her mother, you see, was once a girl on a train. Abandoned by her parents at age 8, traveling with her sister to live with people who didn’t want her. By 14 she was on her own again, cleaning houses for strangers during the Depression.

And so today I ask myself this: what do I inspire in my daughter? Do I believe she can go anywhere and do anything? Do I trust, admire, and uplift her? Do I console and encourage her? Am I good company on her long trip to a destination I will never see? Have I taken every opportunity to give my daughter the reassurance my mother still gives me?

Because, you see, a mother may disappear, but a mother never leaves. She is at your side, just across the aisle, for a billion miles across the empty sands. She buys you snacks and books and a fresh pillow. She stays awake through the long night hoping that you will rest. She weeps in humility at how little she can do, and infinite pride at who you have become.


  1. Oh Maezen, this made me cry. Dozens of times a day lately I find myself thinking ” I have to tell Ma this, and this.”
    So much comfort to think she is here, even if she isn’t here.
    Love you.

    Comment by Marcea — June 8, 2016 @ 11:35 am

  2. Lovely.

    Comment by Shalet Abraham — June 8, 2016 @ 12:02 pm

  3. Next week our eldest will go on camp with her 6th grade class for a full week. She has never been gone more than a few days. After the summer she will commute to the next city for her high school… She walks proud and confident with her long legs.
    And yes I weep at how little I can do.

    Comment by Simone — June 8, 2016 @ 3:20 pm

  4. As always, your words are inspiring.

    Comment by Darasue Lyons — June 8, 2016 @ 5:17 pm

  5. Questioning “Am I good company on his long trip to a destination I will never see?” nails it for me! Because I assume the piece works for boys’ moms too 😉

    Comment by Ben Ming — June 8, 2016 @ 11:08 pm

  6. From the age of 23 I lived thousands of miles from my mother (and father)who were in England.

    After meeting my future husband in Africa I had two daughters who my mother saw very infrequently. No digital cameras or Skype, no cell phones or even house phones. We eventually settled in America, my husband’s home.

    Only now that she is gone and I am a mere 12 hours drive from my youngest daughter and my grandchildren, do I see through my mothers eyes.

    How her heart must have ached, how hard she must have worked to keep the sadness of separation at bay.

    Thank you, as always for your words.

    Comment by Jude Smith — June 9, 2016 @ 3:39 am

  7. This is beautiful. Thank you. I’ve sent it to my daughter in reverence for her devotion to her own baby daughter. We are all indeed each other’s daughters, each other’s mothers, each other’s ground. Let’s support that.

    Comment by Heidi Bourne — June 9, 2016 @ 5:22 am

  8. A treasure. Thank you for your words.

    Comment by Nathan Hayes — June 9, 2016 @ 6:59 am

  9. Oh! I had a difficult mother day yesterday. Felt invisible. Wondered what my efforts have mattered. But a dear friend helped me find myself again and then find you and these nourishing words. Thank you a million times.

    Comment by rebecca@altaredspaces — June 9, 2016 @ 7:30 am

  10. Tears. Beautiful. How proud Hillary’s mother must be of her. Thank you for this.

    Comment by Kathy — June 9, 2016 @ 7:37 am

  11. Thank you everyone. Of course I cried as I watched the speech, read the article and wrote this. And I cry when I read it again. Pretty good, that crying thing. Marks a trail to the heart.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — June 9, 2016 @ 6:31 pm

  12. Beautiful words and as always they touch a place in my heart.

    Comment by Kim — June 10, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

  13. Crying marks a trial to the heart. Wow, yes. This post made me weep for sure, and reminded me of my own exemplary mother and of the questions I need to ask myself and of my goals in mothering my own daughter. Thank you. xox

    Comment by Lindsey — June 10, 2016 @ 11:10 am

  14. My Dear Maezen,

    As always you inspire and touch me with your words . . . this piece especially so since my own darling mother passed to the other plane three years ago but is, as always, with me . ..
    As a precious teacher and guide, YOU, Maezen, mother us all.

    Comment by Elizabeth Gore — June 10, 2016 @ 11:52 am

  15. Thank you. In the ocean of hate and superficial words around the Internet, I find your words always comforting. And touching something deep.

    Comment by Agata — June 11, 2016 @ 7:41 am

  16. I love this, I love Hillary and her speech made me cry. Interestingly, one of the people to whom I have to defend Hillary, is my mother. She is a lifelong Repub, and our discussions are not easy ones. But, she did admit to me that for once, she will vote Democratic. A small victory. Thank you dear Maezen for a beautiful tribute. XOC

    Comment by Clare — June 11, 2016 @ 8:36 am

  17. […] The Girl on the Train […]

    Pingback by Bits and Clips for June 2016 | Polly Castor — June 30, 2016 @ 6:00 am

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