Waving At Trains

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Before we drifted into the dark times, long before then; when the sun still shone on human faces and made them smile – those years were the greatest days of our lives.

In later times we feasted on those cherished memories, hungering for stories and thoughts of back when life was a joy, an ecstasy even. Visitors would come and go from our little huts but not before they told a tale or two of the way life had been. We fed them, they told us stories.

Perhaps many of them lied, perhaps in the re-telling of the stories, they lost their core and became other things, richer things, things to hold and play with – stories that had lost their truths along the way but had started out as well-meaning.
We would sit around the fires and tell of the long gone times – and when one person mentioned the old days, like some chant or prayer, folks would repeat it – ”the old days,” they would say – like saying it often enough might bring those times back.

But they never would.

We never tired of hearing the same stories, and each time a little twist or change to the end would bring an appreciation around the group in the form of a murmur or a little laugh.

“Tell us the story of your railway family,” they would ask me.
And so, for the umpteenth time that month I would sit and tell them the story.

“My family lived by a railway track in an old house that had once belonged to a signalman. In the days before the darkness my father would sit out on the old wooden seat and wave as the trains passed. Before long my parents had children – me and my brother and three sisters, and each of us would join our father waving at the trains as they travelled by our house. He called us the ‘railway children’, just like the old book that had once stood on his shelf beside his bed.

“When the darkness came and the trains no longer travelled along the tracks, my father would still get us to sit as a family and wave at non-existent trains. He would describe them in the greatest of details. ‘Look,’ he would say. ‘There are people waving back, the lady with the green hat, see how she waves at us? Look at the little boy laughing as he plays with his toys.’ And I could see them in my head, all the people he talked about who rode upon the imaginary trains that passed us by.

“When my father took his last train journey, we still kept up the joy of sitting on the wooden bench and waving at the trains. Each of us would take it in turn to describe some passenger who was waving from the window. You might think my father was a little mad in what he had us do, but I tell you this, it kept us together and it kept us sane, and it made us think of the old days.

“The old days,” repeated the others who hung on my every word.

“Those times were like having water. You always assume that it will be there until it dies off or runs out. Then you can never quench your thirst.”

And I guess there must be many folks around the lands who carry out these little games just like the ones we play.

Games to remind them of long ago, games to remind them of their humanity, and games to remind us all what we have lost and how easily we let it slip through our fingers.

The old days.

 

bobby stevenson 2015

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Our Home by the Railroad

If I’m being real honest, the house wasn’t as grand as you see it now. Back then it was built with love, sweat and tears and over the longest of times; if I’m guessing, I’d probably say nearer seven years than six. Christopher Lawson made his money from a store in town – one that he and his wife lived above – and one, that he had promised her, that they would escape from one day when they would move out into the countryside.

She had grand ideas about her home, and Christopher spent every spare hour in helping to build her dream. When he wasn’t at the house, he was at the store and this all eventually took its toll. At the age of thirty-seven, Mr Lawson raised a hammer for the very last time – just before his heart gave in. His wife (after a decent amount of time) moved back out East and married, a Philadelphian, by the name of Jeremiah Cruvitz.

That was when the house fell into the possession of my great, great-grandfather and I have to tell you, it has stayed in the family ever since. The house wasn’t built beside the railroad, rather the other way around. By the time the trains came our way, my grandfather had made the building fancier, with more bedrooms to accommodate his growing family. My great, great grandparents had visited New Orleans one hot summer and decided they wanted their house to reflect the same ‘tasteful elegance’.

The first big train that passed our house, and I’m reading my great, great grandfather’s diary here, was one bringing the soldiers from the war down south back to their homes in the north. Man, these guys were hollering and singing and hanging from the train. It had been a long few years and now they were all going back to their kin folks. President Lincoln had defeated the succession and slavery was gone. The sad thing is, that only a few weeks later, my family were standing by the railroad as the body of our greatest president went rolling by.

There were happy times, too. One summer, in 1893, there was a knock at the door real early in the morning. Heck, from what I hear the sun even didn’t even have time to get its pyjamas off – it was that early. One of my family answered the door,for a man with the longest and curliest moustache in the world, to say: “Could ya spare some water for my elephant?”.

Seems the train taking the animals to the Chicago World’s Fair had broken down about a quarter-mile from our house, and the animals were all getting thirsty. What a day that was for my folks. In the end, they held their own private circus in our garden, then the show folks slept in the barn and some on the kitchen floor. In the morning, their train was good to go and they were off on their way to Chicago.

Two more World Wars came and went, and guns and soldiers were shipped to the east coast (or the west, as happened in the second war).

For a long-time afterwards trains kinda fell out of fashion, although you’d still get the two-mile-long cargo caravans. It stayed very much that way until the late 1960s, when we all went down to the tracks, dipped our heads and watched as the train carrying Robert Kennedy passed by the house on the way to Washington DC.

Passenger trains came back into service again, and folks started to pass our house. Some would take the time to wave, while others were busy on their computers and all.

Late in 2018, trains started heading towards New York and Philadelphia with armaments of all shapes and sizes; tanks, rockets, landing crafts, you name it, the trains carried it.

It was only a few months after those trains passed that we saw the flash in the sky – long way off my daddy said – but we could still feel the wind all the same.

Ain’t no trains been passed the house in a mighty long time, no trains at all – speaking of which, we ain’t seen another human in all that time, either.

 

bobby stevenson 2017

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