Trains, planes and automobiles

There’s nothing like a train.

I love to walk in the mist along the tracks leading to the old depot in town, waiting for the whistle.

This time of year a lone Christmas tree sits inside, with candles lit by the windows.

Artificially lit, I’m sure.

But my memories are ignited anyway.

The tracks lead 80 miles due west towards the smal Midwestern town where Mom was raised. She often shared stories of her journeys to the city for special occasions and when she traveled to St. Paul for college.

As for me, I remember driving to Grandma and Grandpa’s house each Christmas with the tracks and trains alongside us as constant companions.

The calming chug-a-lug of the wheels would lull me off to sleep, my head soon resting on my brother Scott’s shoulder.

My sister and I would be holiday adorned in matching red velveteen dresses beneath our heavy dull coats. Treasured hand me downs they were, from a wealthy doctor’s family.

And Scott would be donning a Christmas bow tie under his parka, his hair slicked back with Brylcreem.

Our anticipation would grow as soon as we crossed the tracks off the country highway into town and drove by the train station.

We’d be so eager for Grandma’s first hug. And for the first glance of the tinseled tree with red and green packages below.

We would hear the occasional whistle as trains traveled back east, disappointed that it was too cold to run down and place our pennies on the rails to be flattened down as souvenirs.

With smells and sizzles of an almost perfectly cooked roast, we’d start to squirm on the squeaky wooden stairs leading up to the bedrooms. Our annual spot to pose for Christmas Kodak black and white photos.

After pictures and the big meal, Grandpa and his two brothers clad in their usual brown gingham shirts would dose off snoring.

Just as the women back in the kitchen, tackled dishes and steaming egg coffee.

Occasional wheezes from the men would create a spontaneous duet with the latest Burlington Northern whizzing by.

On another holiday, when I first met my husband, I discovered trains held a fascination for him, too. It began with the gift of a Lionel train for Christmas when he was a small boy.

I suppose it’s no surprise that we ended up living within whistling distance of train tracks and a depot.

We often talked of the romanticism associated with trains over the years.

Neither one of us ever found it with cars or planes, especially as roads and flights grew more crowded.

So I’m thinking I’ll hold on to that dreamy idealism and my memories associated with trains, tracks and depots.

Today my grandparents, parents, and brother rest on a hill near the depot eighty miles west.

And my husband rests near another one, off to the east.

As for me, I rest well knowing we’re all sharing the same serenades every night.

One brilliant chorus of beautiful train whistles.