I was three years old
and I stepped up into the streetcar
while they thought I was taking a bath
where I sat next to a lady who smelled like raspberries.
Instead, she smiled like a macaroon.
“I’m going to find my mother,” I said.
“Jing! Jing!” said the bell.
The conductor knew where he would be going,
how could he fail, set like intention
on that shining, parallel window-bar?
They asked me my name and I knew.
Trees and houses, gutters, motorcycles and cars.
So on ever since with never a stop.
© Andrew Glaze, 1974, from A Masque of Surgery
This poem caught the attention of Alice Esty, a wealthy Patron of the Arts and soprano singer, and she commissioned composer Ned Rorem to set it to music for voice. You can go to Youtube to hear an audio version of it.
My father explained his childhood adventure this way:
His father was at work at his medical office downtown, and his mother had taken the streetcar downtown to sit for a portrait at a photographers studio. His nanny was looking after him, but he managed to get dressed and sneak out, probably while she was doing other things around the house. He confidently waited at the streetcar stop and climbed on when it stopped for riders.
The lady he sat next to — who smelled like a macaroon — turned out to be a genius. She quickly realized he was on his own, engaged him in conversation and in short order learned his father’s name and the fact that his father had an office downtown. She stood up, quietly instructed the driver not to let the little boy leave the Streetcar, got off at the next stop, found a phone, and called his father’s office to tell them what was going on. By the time the streetcar arrived downtown by his father’s office, his mother was there waiting for him. He said he ran to his mother, happily exclaiming, “Momma what took you so long!” My father followed this with, “and that’s how I ended up in the portrait photo”. My uncle and I recently searched for a studio portrait of my father with his mother at that age. When we found it we realized that his baby sister was also in it. So perhaps he wasn’t happy at being left behind, and that was the motivation for his journey.