For some, the train that runs through my town is a nuisance. It disturbs their sleep, waking them in the middle of the night with its shrill whistle. It holds up the traffic when everyone's rushing to get to work. But the train helps me commute to the past: The sound of the long line of cars rushing by transports me to simpler, more carefree times. Whenever I hear the train, I'm taken back to my grandparents' farm.
Every month or so, my grandparents invited my sisters and me to spend the weekend with them. While Mom took a pie out of the oven and set out the good china, my sisters and I packed our little matching suitcases and watched for my grandparents at the window. It seemed to take forever for the adults to finish their dinner.
Finally, Grandpa pushed away from the table, put on his hat, and pronounced it time to go. Amid admonitions to behave, we tucked ourselves into the back seat of the car.
Although the distance wasn't far, the drive seemed to take forever. I often fell asleep until the sound of the tires crunching against the gravel driveway announced our arrival.
We took our suitcases to the house then rushed to the barn where Grandpa kept his racing horses. During the weekend, we'd watch the horses being put through their paces. Occasionally we were permitted to ride in the training cart. As we grew older, we were allowed a more active role in the training. I recall the thrill of being handed the reins one day. "Take her around a few times," Grandpa told me. Suddenly, I was grown up.
Grandma took us for long walks, teaching us about the plants and flowers that grew in the woods. We chased after butterflies, trying to capture one to add to her collection. We found fat night crawlers for fishing under the wood planks leading to the outhouse.
Grandpa and Grandma took us out to dinner - Bob's Big Boy or the Ponderosa - where we invariably ordered hamburgers, fries, and soda. After dinner, we stopped by the grocery store to pick up a pint of vanilla ice cream for dessert. On the drive home, Grandfather would sing in his deep bass voice: "She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes...." Grandma joined in, in her wispy soprano. They encouraged us to sing along. We complied - until the day we considered ourselves too mature for such things.
Occasionally, my grandparents took us to the train tracks that ran past the farm. We lined our pockets with little circles of iron ore and picked up the rusted iron spikes that had fallen out of the tracks. We learned to read the rails for approaching trains. If we determined one was coming, we stepped off the tracks and waited, eager to watch it pass.
Our patience was rewarded. In the distance, we heard the whistling of the train and the rumble of the cars that grew louder and louder until, suddenly, the train was a huge blur of color and sound speeding by in a great gust of wind. And then, at the end of the train, in a little red caboose, one of the train crew stood waving, a blue-and-white-striped cap on his head.
At the end of a long day, we climbed the steep stairs to the loft where my sisters and I slept, the windows propped open to catch the cool summer breeze, the night train speeding me off to my dreams.