A Veteran's Return: Visiting the bench where my parents' future began.

By Peter Smith
Zocalo Public Square

Smith_Cavalcade coverI’ve been trying for years to write something about my mother’s bench in the waiting room at Union Station in Chicago. The bench where she sat and waited the day my father got home from World War II (his train was late). The bench she began to revisit when, 44 years and nine children later, he died.

I’ve been trying to write about the two of them and that moment that day at that bench, but everything keeps sliding out of focus. Nothing holds still long enough for me to capture it.

One hundred-thousand passengers and 700 trains passed through Union Station every day during the war—one million people every 10 days, three million a month, 36 million a year. So many arrivals and departures. So many lives headed in so many directions. So many little stories and moments like my parents’.

The waiting room is enormous. It seems to have been built to house Chicago’s early-20th-century ego.

Standing there, looking around, any true child of Chicago is left to marvel not just at the city’s big brash ego but at the killing whoever sold the builders all that marble and glass must have made (not to mention the big brash bribes he had to pay to get the marble and glass contracts in the first place).

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