We are time travelers, aren’t we? Consider how a particular sound or smell can suddenly snatch you from the moment you’re in to some distant point in time. Time travelers. I experienced just such a moment recently while traveling.
We were driving down some two lane backroad in the middle of nowhere just as the last drop of light disappeared against the ink black sky, when I heard it. The long whistle blow from the tracks that ran parallel to the road, took me far away. It took me to a place where I experienced an emotion for the first time, a feeling that I did not yet have a word for nor understanding of …. loneliness.
I have to have been 4 or maybe 5 yrs old. We had moved into some shanty clapboard house in G-d only knows what state or town as we moved so often and far. But, I remember playing on hardwood floors, my birthday there and even as small as I was, how tiny the backyard was that butted up against the railroad tracks.
The people next door had 13 children. I’d watch them play together and try to talk to them through the chain link fence, wishing I could be there too but we were strangers and their family kept to themselves. I see myself so small, fingers grasping the links, listening to their boisterous play with a face both hopeful and sad.
The first few weeks, I could not sleep, as the trains passed by blowing their whistles, shaking the tiny house and everything in it. How lonely the whistles call sounded in the night, lonely like me, yearning for the little street where my grandmother lived… the only place that felt like home. I’d slip from my bed to watch the steam plume from the stack on the frosty air. The clickety clack of steel wheels upon the rail reflected the longing of my feet to run away home.
But soon, I grew accustomed to my solitude and the night trains passing by. The tinkling dishes in rattling cupboards, the wail and clack of wheels, became as comforting as a lullaby….as familiar as a friend. And the tiny house near the railroad tracks, that trembled and swayed, rocked me gently to sleep. More than 50 years have passed since then yet that sound, that wail in the darkness, still sounds so much like loneliness to me.
Hear that lonesome whippoorwill
He sounds too blue to fly
The midnight train is whining low
I’m so lonesome I could cry
Hank William’s – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
Always with love – Laura
P.S. After reading my blog, my mother messaged me. Conversation that followed…
MOM: We lived in Miami Oklahoma then. We didn’t stay there very long.
Me: I didn’t know where In the world we were at the time but felt certain we didn’t stay long though I remember christmas and my birthday there so at least a month. I remember sitting Indian style on the floor watching Lassie in black & white. One was an episode where she was lost & hungry and the boy gave her a sandwich but said he didnt have any more and I cried. Lol Animal lover! Might have been lassie go home. For christmas, I got this contraption that would melt rubber into shapes and I burned my finger on it. I always think of that thing and can almost smell it, when I marvel at how dangerous our toys were then and yet we survived. Lol #LeadBasedPaint
On my birthday, my (step) dad came home, went to your bedroom. He acted angry, calling me to take a whipping. I didnt know what I had done but when I laid over his lap for the spanking, he laughed and started counting my birthday licks. He was pulling a joke on me and trying to be funny and playful. He didn’t realize how scared he made me or that my tears were terror to relief. Seem that I had grown happy there for the brief time we stayed. I think he also brought me the metal strips with holes in it that he’d find along the tracks and taught me to bend them to make a whistle.
Mom: Wow, the things kids remember. I hardly remember living there until you brought it up.
Me: Funny too I can remember that so long ago but took me 30 min to remember where I sat my phone down. This morning. Lol
Mom: I know, right? Just like how I remember songs that mom sang when I was very small but I don’t know any new ones.
Me: 🤣 well, give it a few years and you’ll remember them like they were yesterday! Hahaha
©Laura M. Bailey, All the shoes I wear & writing down the Bones, 1990–Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Laura M. Bailey with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.