I took my first trip to the nation’s capital in 1975 with my parents, my sister and my maternal grandmother, Mamoo. A few days before the trip, Mamoo fell down the short, steep hill at the front of our house in Carrollton, Ga., and broke her leg. Not to be deterred by a small inconvenience, Mamoo drove with us from our home, into Atlanta, and we boarded the overnight Amtrak train to Washington.
My sister Kathy and I shared a small bedroom compartment with Mamoo. There was not a bit of wasted space. The top bed pulled down from the wall, a sink was in the corner and the passenger seats rearranged to form the lower sleeping bunk. Kathy and I slept together on the top bunk while my grandmother and her broken leg were on the bottom.
The next morning, we made our way to the dining car for breakfast. The tablecloth was white and there was a flower in a white bud vase in the middle of the table, all quite elegant to me, a middleschool girl from rural Georgia. As the train pulled out from a stand of trees and began crossing the Potomac River, the skyline of our nation’s capital came into view.
My first sight of our nation’s capital left me awestruck: the Capitol and the monuments were visible, but the building that remains etched in my mind is the Washington Monument. Shaped like an Egyptian obelisk, it reaches straight up to the sky, or so it seems. Actually, it is 555’ 5/8” high (the length of nearly two football fields), and, in clear weather, is visible up to 40 miles away. Viewed from just a few miles away, it appeared impossibly big to me.
During our trip, my family visited the Washington Monument. Visitors were allowed to climb its spiral interior staircase, which was adorned with plaques and odd-shaped windows.
Our walk up the stairwell seemed to take forever. We had to pause a few times to catch our breath before completing the 896 steps to the top of the Washington Monument, but we made it. I remember the journey up the stairs, but do not remember being at the top of the Monument. It was the journey to the top, not being on the top of the monument, which remains etched in my memory.
These days, when I visit Washington I usually fly into Reagan International Airport. Each time, as the plane descends, I scan the horizon for the Washington Monument, the signal that I am entering our nation’s capital.