Full Steam Ahead

 Full Steam Ahead   


   By the time I was seven I was comfortable riding the train alone from our residence in southern Germany to where my maternal grandmother lived two hours to the north. I spent several weeks with her each summer, nourished by her stories and our outings into the countryside.

   At twelve my summer vacation brought me my first earnings at the farm of my godmother. My task was to weed her flower garden and to pull small hand wagons loaded with hot luncheons out to the field workers. I was busy all day and tired at night, and very proud of the extra money I brought home to our meager household. As soon as my return train rolled into our station and I saw my mother standing on the platform, I could hardly wait to get off and throw my arms around her.

   My heart leaped with joy when my uncle in Sweden needed day care for my little niece. I was thirteen and this was the longest train ride I had taken thus far. The journey included a night on the ferry where I was overwhelmed by the smorgasbord of foods. My stomach was also overwhelmed. Its contents landed in the spray over the railing. We were used to simple meals at home.

   I like children and the two months with little Astrid flew by. Each week I was given a couple of free days. My frugal uncle handed me a few krona and showed me on the city map of Stockholm how to use the trolley. Upon my return in the evenings I had to account in writing for every krona I had spent! On my outings into the city I wandered through the cobblestone streets, explored different municipal parks and joined tour groups on numerous occasions, including three visits to City Hall. I also ventured out to the Scheren, rocky outcrops on the outskirts of the city. There one day tears dripped onto the sunbaked flat surface of a stone. I stirred the tiny teary puddle with my index finger and wrote, “I want to be home.” Back in Germany I never mentioned my homesickness because my parents regarded these trips away as “blessed luxuries.” But I felt a crack in my foundation.

   I was thrilled when, a year later family friends invited me to join them and their large brood of 8 in Switzerland. From there they took me along on an excursion to the Cȏte d’Azur. Their chalet in the midst of blooming meadows and overripe blueberry patches with cowbells echoing through the valley evoked magical images. And the golden sun and pearly sand along the blue Mediterranean were unforgettable sights. Still, I was lonely. The small children were my only company. I was fourteen. The adults kept to themselves.  At night I clutched the encouraging letters from my grandmother and wept. I was never mistreated, just ignored. Lying on the beach with a towel over my face, I overheard two women from the household exclaiming, “Let her be. She is always so sullen.” The crack in my foundation widened and led from loneliness to depression.

   With the passage of time, I became a self-sufficient traveler. I knew how to navigate a city, change trains, buy my meals from vendors and converse in a foreign language. But not until I befriended lighthearted Margot at nineteen and we both attended a summer language program in Neuchatel did I learn what a joyful time away from home can feel like. Soon after we arrived, we met two artists who took us boating and dancing.

   Margot and I enrolled at the University of Hamburg. On completion of our first semester we signed up for a sojourn to the Middle East with other students. To earn money for the trip I secured a part-time job helping with children and Margot worked a few hours in a fabric store. We sewed all of our clothes for the upcoming adventure from remnants she brought to our student apartment .

   Although my parents encouraged visits abroad, this one frightened them. As our train chugged out of the Stuttgart station destined for Istanbul, they dabbed their eyes with the handkerchiefs they had brought for waving.

   My parents’ foreboding did not prove altogether wrong. I met my husband on that long journey into wonderous lands. A year later I married him and followed him to the United States. My interest in different cultures was complemented by his passion for exploring regions far and wide. Through long years of married life, we have traversed the world.  I am never lonely with him at my side.

   But my husband’s wanderlust diverges from mine. As a youngster he had taken excursions with his parents across the United States, but an exchange year in Germany was his first solo stay with another family. Because he grew up in a stable environment, he is comfortable taking calculated risks. He never feels a stranger in a strange land. He pushes boundaries with confidence and curiosity, never minding an unfamiliar custom or a welcoming foreign bed. He loves to extend stays. When my husband comes back from abroad, he immediately plans another trip. I always take my home with me wherever we go and try to replicate familiar features in my new experiences. I search for posters and cheap throw rugs to bring a touch of my taste to a foreign setting. For me even a most wonderful stay abroad is always temporary. I get restless for our return.

   All through my happy years in America I have not been able to entirely shed homesickness. I still miss my childhood traditions with their intimacies and feelings of belonging. I miss the summers with my grandmother, and especially her warmth. I miss my early sense of security because I know from personal experience how quickly it can be taken away. After each trip I sink into the fluffy worn featherbed from my youth and sigh with gratefulness and relief, “Home again, home again, home sweet home.”


Ute Carson                                      



A writer from youth and an M.A. graduate in comparative literature from the University of Rochester, German-born Ute Carson published her first prose piece in 1977.  Colt Tailing, a 2004 novel, was a finalist for the Peter Taylor Book Award.  Carson’s story “The Fall” won Outrider Press’s Grand Prize and appeared in its short story and poetry anthology A Walk Through My Garden, 2007.  Her second novel In Transit was published in 2008. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and magazines in the US and abroad. Carson’s poetry was featured on the televised Spoken Word Showcase 2009, 2010 and 2011, Channel Austin, Texas. A poetry collection, Just a Few Feathers was published in 2011. The poem “A Tangled Nest of Moments” placed second in the Eleventh International Poetry Competition 2012. Her chapbook Folding Washing was published in 2013 and her collection of poems My Gift to Life was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Award Prize. Save the Last Kiss, a novella, was published in 2016.  Her new poetry collection Reflections was out in 2018. She received the Ovidiu-Bektore Literary Award 2018 from the Anticus Multicultural Association in Constanta, Romania. In 2018 she was nominated a second time for the Pushcart Award Prize by the Plain View Press.

Ute Carson resides in Austin, Texas with her husband. They have three daughters, six grandchildren, a horse and a clowder of cats. www.utecarson.com

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