Night Trains

Night Trains

Time and weeds have over taken the old tracks behind my grandma’s house. I go there to remember. Lost in time, I walk along the rusted rails, the way I did so long ago. It’s a good, thinking place, praying place; the lonely stretch of steel rails.

Back then, following my shadow in the afternoon sun, I would walk for miles and miles past the string of houses huddled in the shadow of the windowless mill, brick smokestack standing guard. Like the tracks, all rusted, the old mill is still there, watching over a handful of houses which time has yet to take.

Just beyond the mill houses was the church, it was where I got saved every summer that I stayed with my grandma, yielding to the sweet sound of “Softly and Tenderly,” or “Just As I Am,” and soft whispers which could only be those of the Lord.

It’s still there, that old church, and sometimes I hear the sound of voices spilling through its opened windows like I remember. Sweet like the smell of honeysuckles in warm sunshine, they take me back to the so long ago.

Beside the church is the cemetery. That’s where my grandma is buried, beside my grandpa. Nowadays, I never walk that far, before having remembered enough, I turn back and retrace my steps to the old home place which still welcomes me with its front porch.

When I was kid though, I just kept walking on, past the church and the cemetery, not giving very much thought to its graying stones or the stories they could tell.

In the cool dark of the early evening shade, made by tall trees wrapped in wisteria, I would take my place sitting on the trestle. There, I would stare into the shiny black water below from which the sad eyes of a boy always stared back. Then, together we would smile as he waited on me to toss in a pebble. With this, his face would disappear in rippling rings.

The sounds of bull frogs kept me company and the sounds of cicadas and the sound of a whippoorwill, which still echoes through my memory when the evening sun sets soft, like it did back then, gently pulling a blanket of night over the world entire.

Then above the sound of the bull frogs, and the cicadas, and the lonesome mourn of the whippoorwill, would be my grandmother, calling out across the church and the cemetery. Her hymn singing voice, high and sweet, guided me home to the back porch steps where she would be waiting, apron in hand, for me to come running and wash up for supper.

Black eyed peas and cornbread is what I remember most and tomatoes from her garden, red and sweet: speckled with pepper and salt. The prayers I remember too, how we blessed our food, giving thanks to the Lord who had given us another day, food to eat, and a safe place to sleep, and more things than we would ever be able to thank Him.

Night would come and with prayers said, I would listen to the whippoorwill as I stared out into the night, watching lightning bugs not yet ready to disappear in the darkness.

By the opened window it was cool and where I slept on a quilt my grandmother spread out for me each evening. It was a quilt her mother made. I still have it, reminded of those summer nights long ago when it made me feel safe as I fell asleep imagining the hands that stitched it together with love.

Childhood only happens once, when the sweetest memories are made, when the sky is more blue than it will ever be again and nights their darkest and in between the days so very long; things not meant to be held on to for more than a season.

It is the night trains I remember too, how they rumbled by, jarring me from my sleep; the rattle of dishes in the cupboard and the trembling of  floorboards beneath the pallet on which I lay in moon shadows.

I remember the old preacher too, the one who prayed over me every summer when I made my way to the front of church where I would kneel  in prayer, until I felt washed clean inside. He said there were two trains, which ran on the tracks of life but only one was bound for heaven.

I asked my grandma once, when I woke frightened by the sound of the night train, how I would know which train to take.

“You just ask the Lord and trust in Jesus,” she told me in a voice sweetened by time and love, a voice I still hear when the nights grow dark and the night trains rumble through my memory.

This is a work of fiction dedicated to my grandmothers, Carrie and Lucille, and to all the other grandmothers all around this world. Edward Reed 2019