What kid doesn’t love a train? My early four-year-old love for trains got my fifteen-year-old aunt in a peck of trouble. Her assignment was to sit with me in church while Daddy preached and Mama sang in the choir. Daddy tolerated a lot of things, but had no patience with Aunt Ruth’s intermittent fits of giggles that ran throughout his sermon. He took her to task as soon as we got home. “Berton, I couldn’t help it,” she said. “Virginia Ann knew the first two hymns and sang along. She didn’t know the last one, so she sang ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ instead.”
Phase Two of my love for trains came in our next home in Hardy Station perched atop a hill that was slashed in two for the train track. [Note the train reference even in the name of the village.] Train whistles day and night and the ground shudders accompanying them were lullaby and rocking chair for a good night’s sleep. We watched daily for the train that swung a heavy bag of incoming mail onto the hook while it lifted the outgoing bag. One engineer, a longtime friend of my parents, blew his whistle as he passed if he saw one of us out on the rope-and-board swing hanging from the oak tree.
Fast forward many years to my husband’s Army assignment in West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our family traveled on the train through the night for a visit in Berlin. We woke up as the glide of the tracks became a rumble traveling the miles over rough track through East Germany. Having become accustomed to West Germany’s trains that went everywhere and ran on time, I had to rethink my reaction when I traveled home for my father’s funeral and found myself stranded in the Atlanta airport. A January ice and snow storm covering the South grounded planes flying west of Atlanta and left me with little hope of getting to Mississippi. My first thought was, “It’s okay. I’ll go downstairs and take the train.” Then I remembered I wasn’t in Germany any more.
Partial redemption for this American shortage has come in our move to Hattiesburg, although my husband insisted that we not buy a house anywhere near a railroad track. The noises do not say “comforts of home” to him. Hattiesburg’s newly refurbished depot beautifully hosts exhibits and community events. And they still sell tickets to exotic places like Birmingham where I can visit my sister Beth. The train trip takes about the same time and money as the drive with seating that is spacious and comfortable. I take some reading, some writing, some cross stitch (no ‘rithmetic), and enjoy my journey.
Tomorrow, May 12 is the fifth National Train Day. If you are also a train lover, find local events at www.nationaltrainday.com. I’m celebrating by imagining an American rail system where passenger trains go everywhere and run on time and travelers waiting for the train sing “Chattanooga Choo Choo.”