Stories from the Train: The Woman with the Agate Bolo Tie

This is part of a series I write about people I meet on the train.

I only travel by train and by car, and train travel has afforded me opportunities to meet incredible people. You can read a diary of previous encounters here.


It was the agate bolo tie I spotted first, then the linen suit and the bob haircut. I knew she was the one.

She was the one who had stories to tell.

This thought was confirmed when she asked the sleeping car attendant, “Would you be so noble as to make my bed, kind sir?”

I popped my head out of my room to join the conversation, but the opportunity never arose, and I went to sleep worried that I would never hear her tales.

But when I woke up the next morning and looked out into the hall of the train car, I saw her head poking out as well.

“Good morning!” I said.

“Well, I think it’s morning,” she replied back. “Let me check!”

I had her.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you where you got your bolo tie from.”

She grabbed the rock resting near her heart, “It was my husband’s.”

I inched my way closer to her room.

We proceeded to make small talk- I asked her where she was headed and where she had come from and she asked me the same- but at some point, the stories started to flow like honey.

“I’ve traveled to every continent except for Greenland,” she said. “I teach English, I dig ditches, I build houses.”

“What is your favorite place you’ve been?”

“That’s like asking which child is your favorite! The most colorful was India and Australia. Indian women look like butterflies. The happiest people- the people I envy the most- are in Costa Rica. The saddest place I’ve been was Ireland. Peru was the most beautiful.”

An image started developing in my head: This woman has spent her entire life- youth until now- traveling the world, teaching English and living the ultimate free life.

I was wrong.

“That’s incredible that you’ve been doing this for so long. When did you start?”

“I was 69 when I started.”

She’s 86 now, lives alone and travels all over the world helping others. Her husband of almost 50 years, Al, died 16 years ago, a year after she had started traveling.

“Was your husband’s death a surprise?”

“Why, yes. He fainted in the grocery store and he said he wanted to go home. I called 911 and they took him to the hospital. He was pissed that he couldn’t go jet skiing the next day. I visited him that night and I said “Good night, Love” and he said “Good night, Love.” The next morning the doctor called me and said he had a massive stroke. They could keep him hooked up to machines, but I said no. They gave us a private room and I was able to hold his hand. He died at 3PM.”

She looked out the window.

“I had no regrets. I was happy. I made sure, every single day, that he knew I loved him dearly.”

Happiness.

That was a theme she brought up often.

And luckiness.

“Some people die at 30. I don’t mean die-die; I mean their spirit. Every day I look forward to something and I look back and think, “How have I been so lucky?” I had Al, I have four genetic children and many adopted “children”… there are 29 of us at holidays!”

We discussed attitude and how one can look at their life in a positive light, and one could look at their life in a negative light. She has always chosen the positive. That positivity is what made her officiate the first gay wedding in Bell County, Texas, and helped her beat cancer, and helped her survive the death of her beloved husband and brought her all over the world.

“By the way, what is your name?”

“My name is Jean.”

Thank you, Jean.

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