A bunch of Leland and Gray students, along with some faculty and other chaperones, are currently visiting China as part of the Journey East Program. During their travels they e-mail messages and photos to their friends and families back home, telling of their adventures. You can track their progress through an excellent and very sophisticated web site.

They’re spending a month there. They will visit the Great Wall and the birthplace of Confucius. They will meet Chinese people and eat Chinese food. The might even speak a little Chinese.

China! It’s mind blowing!

Want to hear about my big school trip? It was to Montpelier!

In the late 1940s a rolling railroad museum called the Freedom Train was traveling throughout the country with displays of unique American treasures. The train contained some of the country’s most precious documents including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, one of the 13 original copies of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address and the Iwo Jima flag.

On its country-wide tour stops were scheduled for every state and the capital of Vermont was one of them. It was hoped that every school kid in the state would get a chance to view the train’s contents.

I was probably in junior high and at the perfect age to be awed by such historical splendor.

The mode of transportation chosen for my particular group was the same we always used for an outing, an empty hay truck. This was very exciting to contemplate and I so looked forward to the trip. That there was no place to sit was no problem.

It was a beautiful early summer day as we bounced along and I and my classmates sang patriotic songs at the top of our lungs, waving madly at anyone we passed for the duration of the fairly lengthy trip.

We were dressed in our best for the big outing.

When we got to Montpelier, it became quite clear that every school in the state had chosen the same day for the excursion to view the precious documents.

The place was mobbed!

We were packed into a parking lot where we could see, in the distance, the beautiful red, white and blue train decorated in festive bunting. There was no semblance of a line, just a kazillion kids surging toward the quietly puffing railroad cars.

It got hotter!

We had brought sandwiches from home but I soon dropped mine and it was immediately trampled, leaving me not only still a little carsick from the trip, but really hot and very hungry. There was no place to get a cool drink.

For two hours we pushed and shoved and tried to funnel into the opening that led into the train where rumor had it, there was air conditioning.

Just as I drew near my goal, someone right next to me pulled out the one thing in this world for which I have no tolerance, a banana. My stomach heaved, my brain whirled and people made way for me to get out of the crowd and off to the side. A cool washcloth was found and my fevered brow mopped.

Regaining my footing I watched in horror as the space where I had stood quickly closed in, filled up with excited students who were nearing the prize.

But, alas, I was not going to get up close and personal to history that day. The kids from my group had filed through the railroad cars and the truck driver and teachers were herding us all back to our transportation.

Our singing on the way home was more subdued from sheer exhaustion.

It was many years later when I visited the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., and I got to see the exhibit that had been denied me as a seventh grader. My children were with me and about the same age I had been when I missed the Freedom Train. I told them my story.

They were unimpressed.