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In Association with

Railroad Remembrance


by Ed Hayes

We saw a friend off at the railroad station several days ago. Haven’t done that in years.

Usually when my wife and I bid provisional farewells to old acquaintances, relatives, neighbors and house guests, the performances take place on the gravel driveway of our cottage. Or, perish the thought, it entails a lengthy drive across town on our well-used boulevards and along the specialized touch-and-go trails that zero in on our spectacular, sprawling, swarming international airport.

Our most recent goodbye was staged on nearby Winter Park’s open, intimate Amtrak platform.
Despite bum weather to the north and bum weather to the south, the engineer sounded the horn no more than a few minutes late as the train coiled into view around the south turn of tracks. Ah, such a grandiose sight. There she was, the gleaming, beaming, one-eyed, friendly monster aiming directly in our direction. I do believe a chill would’ve slithered down my spine even if I’d not been caught up in an untypically sunless Florida afternoon.

True, I do miss the classic train whistle of bygone days, the faraway cry of the old steam locomotive, but, clearly, something important was taking place on this stage, someone was going somewhere.
The bell was clanging on the illuminated crossing signal on the street behind the small-town station, the train grunted to a halt, and the self-possessed conductor swung down. I swear I smelled cinders.

Our friend, ticketed for New York City, was appropriately bundled up for its typically brutal February weather. If imperative he had to go off, we wanted to go with him. He wiped away a tear. In truth he wanted to stay, but he was on a mercy mission to be at his ailing mother’s bedside.

Later, motoring home, I reminded my wife that entirely too much time—four or five years—had elapsed since we’d last taken a choo-choo ride together. Idly she wondered if I could remember riding the rails for the first time ever.

Oh, my dear, yes, sixty years ago, a run of only a few uninspiring miles, Jefferson Barracks to Union Station in St. Louis, where I changed trains to the war. The antique station has since been transformed into a world-class festival marketplace, or so my older brother tells me, but on the screen in my head, I suppose, it’ll always be the world’s biggest and busiest railroad station.
Lord, yes, I can still hear the continuous, high, monotone of information echoing from the loudspeakers in the heat of those peak wartime years, and all the jabber, laughing, and crying you can stuff into one dramatic production.

Our friend might not get to sniff the daisies, but traveling by train, or bus, for that matter, you see it, the whole bouquet.

And then he was gone, and we stood there, and all we heard was the faint, fading clickety-clack echoing back.

Excerpted from 3-Minute Heydeys by Ed Hayes. Copyright © 2004 Ed Hayes. Excerpted by arrangement with Pineapple Press, Inc. All rights reserved. $9.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800-746-3275 or click here.


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