Chattanooga Choo Choo

Opinion by Father Pat Killilea, St. Francis Church, Kalaupapa

“When you hear the whistle blowing eight to the bar, Then you know that Tennessee is not very far. Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep rolling, Woo, Woo, Chattanooga, there you are.”

When you hear the whistle of a train, your thoughts may turn back in time to the voices of the Andrew Sisters or the strains of the Glen Millar Band bringing back memories of the Chattanooga Choo Choo train. If the Chattanooga Choo Choo were to blow its whistle today, it might well toot its salute to a baby just born to Julia Aleszczyk and her husband, Ryan Poland, in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

It was on Jan. 18, 2020 that we had gathered at Kalaupapa International Airport to bid a sad farewell to Julia and Ryan, who were leaving us for their next adventure in Chattanooga. They had been core members of our church and our community for several years. Julia was the curator of Hale Malama, our National Park Museum, and Ryan volunteered for the National Park Service in a number of roles. Love will do that. As the song says, “Love will keep us together.” Ryan also took care of my five cats any time I went gallivanting in Honolulu. What a nice guy!

Now in their early 30s, it was time for them to make the big move. You see, here in Kalaupapa no children under the age of 16 are even permitted to visit at this time. This law derives from the fact that, when patients in the past had children, the babies were taken from the parents and given to relatives or others to care for them. This was more than heartbreaking for the parents of these children.  We can only try to imagine their anguish.

So, it was now time for Julia and Ryan, Lady and Lord Antrim as I fondly referred to them, to leave us and begin a new life on the mainland. Julia had a job awaiting her as curator of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park and soon thereafter Ryan took up his post as professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee. I do not know whether or not they hear the whistle of a train but we wish them well in their new home with their very first bambino. We miss their presence here in Kalaupapa and I hope that the rules will change so that they can return here for a visit, bringing with them their little Choo Choo. Aloha.


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