On Trains and Childhood Memories

On Trains and Childhood Memories

This is something like the image that I had thought to work up into a painting. It is from a memory of being about five years old, and walking with my brother David, to see the RR tracks that ran behind our house in Iowa City. As I recall, it was just beyond the rhubarb patch at the end of our garden, behind the Peterson’s house and garage.

Imagine my surprise when I did a google map search of the area and discovered that the RR tracks were at least 5 or 6 blocks away from our house. Those short little five year-old legs must have gotten really tired. And I suppose we were not really supposed to cross all those streets to get there. Also once we got there it was really scary being so high up above the tracks. But David knew how to get down to the tracks. Oh Joy.

Apparently the big deal with my brother and trains was to put a penny on the track and let the train run over it so that your money grew. I would suppose that it seemed like a fun thing to do before we got there. But once we were on site, there was no way that I was going down into that ditch or anywhere near those huge monster trains, all that dirty gravel, messy itchy weeds, and stinky dirty grimy tracks! Everything was extreme! I seem to recall crying and heading home.

So I guess there is a reason that I can only recall the one adventure with trains.  And, regarding my relationship with trains in general, that was my sole interaction until I bought a Eurail pass in college.

6 Replies to “On Trains and Childhood Memories”

  1. How I enjoyed your memory description! I love trains – well, the old ones. ‘If only’, I keep thinking, ‘I had enough spare cash to take a very special vintage, steam train journey – somewhere in the world – annually’. What I would see! And at night, how I would love to be lulled to sleep between crisp white linen, to the rhythmic clack-clack sounds of the wheels on tracks. Between my swaying gait strolls to the elegant dining car, I would write and sketch and wallow in that slow, meditative travel- experience!

    As for one’s faded memories of distance, I too had one of those when I discovered that Moygashel Linen Mills were not after all at the bottom of Scotch Street, Dungannon but several miles away. And dull buildings too. I had remembered the excitement of seeing bolts of colourful and printed linens and my parents buying yards and yards and yards of them for our flats in South London, half a century and more, ago.

    Back to trains. Ireland in the 19th century was served by far more miles of railtrack than now. When I reach a certain age, I like fellow pensioners here, will get free travel on what’s left. Can’t wait! All very modern and rather efficient nowadays. A while ago I ordered a catalogue or two about the glorious, restored train tours by The Railway Touring Company (UK). Fresh ones arrive every so often. Yet they are too expensive – well, certainly if I was to travel to Scotland for a mere day’s Highland trip! The longer journeys are decadently pricey. Far too frivolous of me to consider booking, especially as one needs to get the sagging kitchen counter rebuilt; the drafty old windows repaired/conserved; the rotting balcony bits replaced; exterior and interior painting, decorating and general tarting up of the public bits, so that one can continue to earn a wee income from Paying Guests.

    Mind you, it has been torture trying to get anyone to commit to doing the work so badly needed. We were hopeful before Birr Vintage Week & Arts Festival that another nice young man might get things going. Would he with the gravelly voice and rapid fire banter, do some of the above more urgent carpentry in his spare time (from his ‘proper job’ with a telephone company). Yes, he said he would do it, but not for a week or two as he and his father had a lot of gigs over the festival. Father and son are renowned Irish Trad. musicians.)

    A wise person – a truly eccentric and inwardly happy person would think, ‘Ah sod it. Take the rail journey. The visitors can take this place as it is! Old and ‘interesting’; with patina; with atmosphere – with tarnished old things.’ However, one well-corseted, monosyllabic and clearly ‘unread’ creature who arrived at our door with her timid husband a couple of weeks ago, and who maintained silence, and a look of misery and distaste, clearly thought that our ‘characterful’ home was not to her standards. The next morning, though her polite and sweet husband had slept well and said all was very comfortable, and the breakfast good, I should have suspected her smile as they left. For triumphantly she left a less than favourable review, to which I have been mentally composing versions of a gritty and pithy Flash Fiction – for the fun of it – story. To think, if social mores allowed one to fire off honest reactions – to let off steam: that is, when I had taken one look at her face at the front door and instead of greeting her courteously with a handshake and smile, now wish I could have done what is not considered ‘normal’ for a hostess with the mostest, and said, “Oooh! I think either you two have had a big row or you are not happy that you have found yourselves at an old house to stay this night!’ But one doesn’t and her mud sticks. So this inner debate with myself to knuckle down to horrid housework now, after the couple of weeks of arty-endeavours; to splash the bleach around (not) but certainly to look deeply critically at my own home, is being weighed up with a longing to delete my Airbnb listings, and take a steam train.

    Therefore I am not sure I should thank you for that reminder on trains and tracks – and thus the opportunity to sit and write, instead of doing the pots and pans and all the other dull drudgery. For it becomes more ‘drudgerous’ and draining at the thought that another ghastly woman will notice dust particles somewhere, and all other imperfections, and I am left with hurt and horrid ‘honesty’.

    Why, I ask myself yet again, do women think that all in the world would be peace and harmony, if women ruled. PAH TO THAT BIG FICTION!!!

    Must finish.

    PS Sure hope there is a way you are ‘Blogging for Dosh’. In other words, is there a stylish cap on the ether-pavement with lots of pennies clinking into it? Doooooo get advice on this! Your wonderful newsletters are always worth reading and should be earning you something. If only enough to take one nostalgic, steam-railway journey – reversing all your former reservations on trains and tracks – and putting yourself on the track of retirement prosperity.

    Just to finish with another PS. That an octogenarian author friend wrote a marvellous historical novel around the ‘disappeared railway’ in these ‘ere parts, back in the 19th c. Look up Malcolm Ross MacDonald’s long book lists. We no longer have trains – and the track has long gone – from Roscrea to Birr and that makes us something of a public transport island in the middle of our bogs. Civilized, arty and heritage town that it be – we can feel a little isolated in this regard. So far I have not been able to persuade anyone of influence that we should have a new track laid, and an antique steam train to service our connection into the rail network, with afternoon teas at 10 miles per hour. We even lost out to a Greenway Scheme – no bikes are to be allowed to pedal across the high mound of the old route, through farmers fields and past a fine Georgian mansion. Yet to my delight, I spotted a wonderful painting by a local amateur, at one of the exhibitions this past week, of a steam train pulled up at the old Birr Railway station. Jackie and I (artist friends) have brought to finished fruition our Famous & Notables of Birr Trail this Vintage Week. The committee so kindly and supportively funded another reprint of our Guide to the FAN trail. We have completed it with two new plaques – bringing the number to 27. One for Lord Snowdon, (photographer) and the other for Alice Cashel (Nationalist) whose father Blennerhasset was stationmaster at Birr Railway station. My further recent efforts to persuade the owner of that premises, to buy a vintage engine and display it there have not yet been successful. He said he had investigated and they are very pricey. Last time, while we were putting up the new plaque for the revolutionary woman, (who had spent a great deal of time on her bike delivering covert messages) he responded with somewhat harsh banter on my ‘feckin eyebrows’. Sub-conscious seduction on my part? Not even a twinkle in my wrinkly old eyes was going to work on that beyond-middle-aged boyo – not in exchange for a an old train, anyway.

    I’ve run out of steam now.

    1. Dear Rosalind Fanning,

      I would like to meet you! I, too, live in one of the kind of houses you live in, although mine is in a little town in South Carolina. I, too, like to travel in trains. Maybe someday soon I can come visit you, your house, and leave a glowing review to counteract the mental “corseted one” who wrote a negative. I would like to see your “fecking eyebrows” and talk about history, small towns, trains, our mutual friend Connie and cabbages and kings.

      1. Hello Nelljean,
        Connie alerted me by e-mail that someone had left a response to my over-lengthy blether earlier.
        Your note is delightful and I am so chuffed that you responded – not something I expected at all. It was a ramble, really! It is a great regret that I never got to South Carolina in my nine years in the States, and especially that I didn’t catch a train there from Noo Yawk. (I used to catch a lot of colds on my communting train journeys from Newburgh to the city – all the fault of the icy air contitioning and sneezers). The views were glorious nearly all the way along the Hudson River bank but the nearly four hours commute, to and fro were too much to bear.

        It seems so unlikely I will ever return to the more civilized parts of your country, and so I think it will be up to you to travel from the deep and charming South of your land to the Middle Kingdom of ours. I certainly wish that lovely person, a great character, dear Connie will come back again too!
        With good wishes to you, fellow train-lover,

  2. Connie,

    I think this one has tremendous potential, if you put a very tiny, but monstrous, train coming along in the distance.

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