A Catholic school was a half a block down from my grandparents house in Miamisburg, Ohio. My sisters, cousins, and I would play on the playground behind the school. The playground, for me, was just a pastime wating for the trains. The double track of the New York Central ran directly behind the playground, and I’d listen for the hum of the rails and the anticipatory whistle far up the track. At last the flickering head light would show, and everything would revert to slow motion. Like a watched tea kettle getting ready to boil, the light would ever so slowly steady into the Cyclops eye in the round black face of the chuffing magnificent monster that emerged in a cacophony of hissing and squeal of wheels. Then, we could see the engineer on his high throne pull the cord to whistle a warning for the crossing ahead. Usually his window would be open and he’d wave to his little fan club. After the crazy, heartbeat cadence of car-space, car-space, car-space, there often would be a conductor in the caboose to wave goodbye and convince me, once again, that this roaring, clackety-clacking monster had a good heart.
Occasionally a train would stop right behind the schoolyard, and a few times I got to talk with an engineer. Because I was totally in love with trains, every train that went by was a great treat for me. I would count the cars on every one, trying to find the ultimately long train. When diesel engines started being mixed in with the steam locomotives, I found them fascinating, because they were new. I couldn’t wait to see the next one slip into the queue of suddenly stodgy-seeming steam locomotives. Then, the friendly coal-black, fire-breathing monsters were gone. Little did I know how much I would miss them.
Having a train going by regularly, right in the back yard, however, was almost a complete wipeout for my home turf. There were two lines that ran a few miles away from me in opposite directions. On a quiet night, with my bedroom window open, I could hear their mournful whistles calling in the distance, and I’d wonder where the lucky people on them were going. It was romantic and it was mesmerizing, but it was also like having the squeal of the pig, instead of the ham and the bacon.
This is a scene from my memoir-in-search-of-a-publisher.