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The train - Sing With Me If It's Just For Today...
If I should fall behind, Guyster, wait for me.
guysterrules
guysterrules
The train
train


My grandma never went to a movie in her life. She only watched Billy Graham and Lawrence Welk on television. At night, she did her hair with criss-crossed bobby pins holding pin curls so tight I could see her scalp. A hairnet held everything in place, and when she took off her stockings at night, the garters left deep marks on her upper thighs. She wasn’t more than five foot tall, and she never danced.

The house my grandparents bought after the kids were grown and gone was an old one-story refurbished with yellow aluminum siding so pale it looked like a hundred years of sun beat down on it. The living room and dining room had gold-flocked wallpaper, and off to the side of the dining room were two bedrooms. One was theirs; the other held the scent of a decade of emptiness. Worn linens, old photos, and a dresser drawer with a huge beveled mirror dominated the small bedroom; faded floral wallpaper lined its walls.

I spent many nights with my grandparents. My mom was in the hospital a lot, and my dad was busy. They lived in Bellwood, several towns west of Oak Park, not far from one of the largest rail yards in the Midwest. The house was right in the middle of a quiet block of homes; one street to the left was a small avenue, and up across the railroad tracks was a one-block shopping area that had a grocery store, a hardware store, and a gas station. The street to the right was fast and wide, and my grandma forbade me to go near it.

My grandma always carried a purse that dwarfed one side of her, tilting her slightly. In church, she’d dig in that bag to find a roll of Pep-O-Mint lifesavers, carefully pealing away the fragile tinfoil, and never taking her eyes off of the preacher, she’d let me pluck one from the pack. I’d tuck it in one side of my cheek then move it to the other until I finally left it on my tongue until it just disappeared. I’d poke her, interrupting the sermon for her, and give her the eye that I wanted another one. Without hesitation, she’d go digging again, and I’d have another one to play with in my mouth. It took about five Pep-O-Mints to make through a complete sermon.

When grandma and me would go to the grocery store, she made me hold her hand. It was a little embarrassing, but she held it as if she needed to. We ‘d cut catty-corner across a gravel field that was the parking lot for a newspaper distribution center on the corner. The store had wooden floors beaten down from years of wobbly steel-wheeled carts tracing through its four short lanes. The butcher counter was in the back.

The scariest moment I had in my first ten years was on a trip to the store with her. While the train tracks had a signal, it didn’t work. There were no gates that came down to warn of an oncoming locomotive. Drivers would have to look left and right to make certain no oncoming trains were heading their way. It was dangerous business, that track.

We walked our usual path to get groceries, her purse on her other side from me. Before we crossed, we both saw a train in the distance, but there was plenty of time. Grandma squeezed my hand just a little harder and we picked up our pace. She stumbled on the tracks and fell like a sack of wheat. Her purse’s contents scattered all across the wooden ties and the rocks between the rails. Her hand pulled me down with her. I gained enough traction to stand up, our hands never parting.

“Come on, Grandma!” My voice was high-pitched from youth, and panic. I was tugging on her arm. She tried to right herself, her knee bloody. Once she got to her feet, the train was close to that busy bad street, close enough to read the front of the locomotive. I tried to collect some of her stuff, grabbing her wallet and the purse, but her hand yanked me further across the tracks.

In the movie version that plays in my head, we narrowly escaped, but truth is it sped past about a minute or two later. I looked behind me at the monstrously large train, shaking and clutching my grandma’s hand tighter than I ever had. We stood there for a while watching the boxcars and coal cars pass until the caboose was in sight.

Once the wind of the train disappeared, we went back and retrieved the rest of her purse’s belongings. I made sure to grab the roll of Pep-O-Mints.

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Comments
pinkrose70 From: pinkrose70 Date: May 8th, 2005 10:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, at the memories you just jogged for me with the criss-crossed bobby pins (black ones with the coated-tips?) Lawrence Welk and Pep-o-mints!

I'm not positive, but I think after Lawrence Welk back then on Saturday nights, it was Wagon Train, or Rawhide or some such show before it was time for bed for us.

You're narratives are always so lush! Thank you.




guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: May 12th, 2005 01:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey Ms. Valley 2005!

Yes, the ones with the plastic tips.

Thank you. I'm going to be back home soon, for good. Maybe we can meet for dinner or a movie sometime.
(Deleted comment)
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: May 12th, 2005 01:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Grandmas are the buffer from all of the damage our parents do. It's their second chance for themselves to raise a kid, and they usually don't blow it.

Thank you.
tedwords From: tedwords Date: May 8th, 2005 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
I never had much luck with making Pep-O-Mints disappear. Too impatient. I'd suck on it for five seconds, and then crunch down.

Very gripping story. I can just see your grandmother taking a spill on the tracks, thanks to your skillful description. But you're right, the movies in your mind always are that much more dramatic, aren't they?
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: May 12th, 2005 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I would've crunch on them, but the noise! Also, it was more fun playing a game, concentrating on the candy rather than the sermon.
hapgood From: hapgood Date: May 8th, 2005 11:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I went with my grandma to the store-once (I think I was 6 or 7). When we went to check out, she pulled a men's wallet from her bra to pay. I was so embarassed, I never volunteered to go to the store with her again.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: May 12th, 2005 01:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your grandma had very good skills at thwarting potential bandits.
ubermunkey From: ubermunkey Date: May 9th, 2005 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)
great retelling...
be well bub
quuf From: quuf Date: May 9th, 2005 01:51 am (UTC) (Link)
carefully pealing away the fragile tinfoil, and never taking her eyes off of the preacher, she’d let me pluck one from the pack.

It's cinematic in its clarity, but better than any movie.
fairy From: fairy Date: May 9th, 2005 06:01 am (UTC) (Link)
I always look forward to your entries. When am I adopting you?

Why is it when you are that age an adult holding your hand is embarrassing? My father used to hold my hand from the car parking lot into church every Sunday and it was the Green Mile walk. I hated every second of it. And the funny part was he would tell me every week, without fail, how embarrassing it was for him when his father held his hand.
privatesector From: privatesector Date: May 9th, 2005 12:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
A most interesting slice of life, T. That first paragraph really pulled me in and set me down, if you know what I mean.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: May 12th, 2005 01:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Why thank you. Coming from you is high praise, indeed, and much appreciated.
discreet_chaos From: discreet_chaos Date: May 17th, 2005 09:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I was "saved" by Billy Graham, entirely because I was trying to impress my Grandmother and for no other reason, whatsoever. Wonderful story and very well told. It seems I'm perpetually late to your party, so I'm adding, where I might be on time.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: May 17th, 2005 01:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
My train will always slow down to pick up a passenger with something interesting to say. After reading some of your journal, I'm glad you stuck out your thumb and flagged me down.

Thank you.
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