I grew up in Massachusetts, in the town where Williams College is located. At that time the college had only male students (it became coeducational in 1970). When we were kids we would sometimes entertain ourselves on an autumn Friday by riding our bikes down to the train station and watching the co-eds arrive from Vassar, Smith and Mount Holyoke for their football-weekend dates with the Williams boys.
I earned money by renting my bedroom to the visiting young women. My parents allowed me to rent out my room and the guest room,
so I could take in four girls, each of whose dates would pay me $5 for one night or $7 for two. It was a huge amount of money for a kid whose allowance was .35 a week. All I had to do was clean the two rooms, make the beds and then, on Sunday afternoon, do the laundry (my mother was no fool). I moved into the closet that served as my absent brother’s bedroom. It was easy, and it was very romantic to meet the girls; they seemed so grown up and sophisticated. After the Saturday afternoon football game they would come back to their room to change. When they all left for the evening our upstairs was perfumed with eau de toilette and hairspray, with a faint overtone of Doublemint gum.
Sometimes one would have a bad time on her date and would return to our house in tears early in the evening. Then my parents would take over, dispensing Kleenex, hot tea, and kind words.
I guess that sort of employment opportunity is long gone for a kid – and not only because Williams College has long been co-ed.
I couldn’t wait until I, too, would be old enough to ride a train somewhere for the weekend, where I would be met by a handsome ‘older man,’ who would take me to someone’s home to change, after which we would trip the light fantastic at fraternity parties, dancing until 1 a.m.!
It was not to be. Passenger train service ended in Williamstown from the east in 1958, and altogether in 1965. Trains to or from the east of Williamstown traveled through the Hoosac Tunnel, a 4.75 mile tunnel which took 25 years to build. My birthday present in 1958 was to be on on the last passenger train through the tunnel.
It was my first train ride, and it was both weird and magical. One of the best things to do was walk to the back of the train to the bathroom – it was mind boggling. The train was moving forward, but I was walking in the other direction; was I traveling more slowly than my father and Nana, who accompanied me on this adventure? In addition, the tunnel was the darkest place I had ever been in my life. Even my dreams had more illumination. It was frightening. There were perhaps six other passengers on this historic journey.
When we arrived at the Charlemont train station on the other side of the tunnel it was all boarded up. How inhospitable! Didn’t they know a birthday girl was arriving? It was also freezing cold with a sky the steely grey of a New England late winter afternoon. Naturally it took my mother, who had waved us off in Williamstown, much longer to arrive at the station because she had to drive over the mountains that we so efficiently trained under. We shivered and stamped around on the platform cursing the Boston & Maine Railroad for closing the station before the last three passengers arrived. It was one of the most exciting events of my childhood.