Friday, April 15, 2011

RR TRACKS DOWN THE HILL

Summer nights at grandmas were so restful.   I don't mean to say it was comfortable necessarily.  During the summer it was hot.  The bedroom you slept in was upstairs which double the heat factor immediately.  There was only one window in the room so air flow did not exist.

There were distractions to keep your mind off the heat on those summer nights.  Grandma put a small fan in the room that blew directly on you to keep the air moving in the room.  Clean sheets were always on the bed and it seemed that when grandma cleaned sheets they came out nice and cool.with the fan blowing on you , you would almost have to cover with a top sheet to keep yourself from being too cool.

There were books in the room and we could stay up an read during the summer nights as long as we were quiet.  My favorite book during those times was a copy of Pinnochio.  It was the original version and wasn't necessarily the whimsical children's book that it evolved into in later years.  There were parts of it that were actually scary.  It was a fascinating read though and I must have read that book a dozen times over the years.  One time I looked at the inside cover and made a very interesting discovery.  It had my Uncles name written in it as "Danny Hill".  Later after Grandma and Grandpa had passed on I discovered a box of books my mother was going to give away.  Many of the books were from my childhood and so I saved them.  The one very special book I found was Uncle Dan's copy of Pinnochio.  I quickly snatched it and took it home.  The next time Dan was in town, I gave him his book back.  He was extremely excited and took it with all the thankfulness he could muster.  Later as Dan was diagnosed with cancer, he gave me the book back and so now it sits on my bookshelf.  I still open it and read portions of it now and then.  Books, along with the fan and the cool sheets made it seem not quite as hot in the room as it really was.

After you turned the lights out and the reading was done the sounds of the night became the distraction.  The cicadas were always at full volume at grandma's house.  They made their sounds in unison with a steady rhythm that would occasionally quiet for a few minutes.  When the cicada went quiet you would be able to hear the less noisy crickets who still made their noises in almost perfect unison and every once in a while a frog or two would throw in to add some bass to the concerto.

The sound that would finally put you to sleep though was the distant sound of the Union Pacific.  The tracks were through the woods and down a hill about a mile away.  In the summer air with the windows open it sounded as if the train may have been just a ways into the back yard.  You could hear the rhythm of the wheels rolling down the tracks and then that train whistle that would pierce the night as it came up onto road crossings.  The trains would come through about every forty minutes or so and you could almost tell time by how many trains went by while you were laying there fighting off sleep.

From these trains during the depression and afterwards, hobos would get off the trains and climb the hill to ask grandma for a bite to eat before the next train came along that had to be jumped to continue their journey.  From the stories I have heard she always had at least a sandwich for the men and they were very grateful,  After eating their food they would disappear back into the woods and down the hill to await the next train that would be coming through.

Eventually after spending an hour or two listening to the trains and counting how many were going by you slowly fell asleep.  Many times the last sound you could remember the next morning from the night before was that whistle of a train rolling all through the night.

I never walked down the hill to see the tracks and had no idea how far off they were.  I just knew that every season of the year at grandma's house the one constant was the sound of the trains moving past in the night.  You never really noticed hearing them during the day and I am not sure if it was because you were to busy to listen for the trains or if it was just noisier during the day and the sounds drowned out that of the train.

I began working at the company in the winter of seventy nine.  It was a nice place to work.  The building had some railroad tracks that ran behind the building about twenty yards from the building.  The trains come by the building fairly often mostly carrying coal to the power plants but there are occasional freight trains as well.

When the freight trains roll through you see a lot of empty box cars with the doors open about halfway to a lot of them.  I could imagine men like Woody Guthrie riding these rails and writing songs about the trains and the men who rode them.  You could almost see the ghosts of the old hobos sitting in the box cars heading to any town that was on the line and could provide work for them.

Grandma and Grandpa lived up the hill from my office and I would often go and visit them over the lunch hour or after work.  It was a good time getting to see them more often since I worked so close to them.  Every time I would leave the office I would drive over the Union Pacific tracks and up the hill towards their house.  I drove over those tracks hundreds of times before the thought crossed my mind.

These tracks I was driving over carried the same trains that I use to listen to at night as a boy while spending the night at grandma's house.  It was one of those moments where you just hit yourself upside the head when you realize how much those tracks were a part of your life.

Now as I sit in my office and hear a train whistle blow as they roll through the business park my mind is often taken back to those summer and winter nights at Grandma's, trying to fall asleep and letting the train whistles drift me off to sleep.

Everyday at work now, I have a good a good memory from my childhood that will always be with me.  It is a good feeling.

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