Lying in bed at night as a child, I used to hear trains pass less than a mile away, as the whistle blew at the intersection where I also would catch the school bus in the mornings. We were out in the middle of citrus orchards, on a dead-end road, so there was little else to hear at night. The coyote howling was a different tone from the locomotive's warning. Now that my daughter lives where trains toot-toot as they go by many times throughout the day and night, I find that the sound still strikes a chord of comfort and regularity.
While we are busy about our work and play and sleep, thousands of people are being diligent to do their jobs driving the trains, loading them, keeping the schedules updated, whatever all is necessary. I know so little about it, it's like magic.
Books I enjoyed with my children fed this romantic feeling I have: The Little Red Caboose, The Boxcar Children, The Railway Children, even The Narnia Chronicles with its train trips here and there during holiday. Children and trains.
When I was still a young child I was allowed to ride the Santa Fe with just my two sisters, four hours to my grandmother's house, which no doubt also makes me love trains, and the train stations just as much. Excitement and heightened emotion pervade these meeting places of people who might be returning from exotic and faraway lands, or perhaps are just now being reconciled face-to-face with kinfolk after years of estrangement....One never knows all the stories, one hardly knows all that churns in one's own heart at meeting one's own people.
When I rode the train, it was to visit my most dearly beloved maternal grandparents. I can see in my mind's eye, just as I saw them from the train window before they could see me, Grandma and Grandpa, standing in the crowd waiting for us. We climbed down the steps and went to them, and got a kiss, and Grandma's warm hands in ours (those were the days before hugging was expected), and her remarking how cold my own hands were.
There is mention of British trains and stations, even Victoria Station, on this blog recently. I've been on some British trains, and the last time I was on that island, my hotel was quite near Victoria Station, which was awfully modernized from the first time, and certainly a different world from what lives in my memory and heart's imagination. When you can't even throw your own trash away, but must hand it to someone walking around in a sort of spacesuit, it feels like a new age, and not of flower children.
One recent sight jived with the old world, though. Driving through the mountains of forests last week, I looked down the wooded slope at a railroad track snaking along a river, and thought I caught a glimpse of the little red caboose.