It’s not what you might think, not Mozart, Chopin, The Ramones or even music. Nope, the sound that most calms me, reminds me of happier and sadder times, the noise that grounds me is the coal train that runs behind my home. Since I was a little girl the coal trains have run behind my home, I hear them in the morning, at night and throughout the day. Every aspect of the trains passing are dear to my ears, from the whistles that announce their approach to the distant chugging of the wheels as it passes out of hearing range. I love the way the weight of the train makes bits of the house rattle, the windows and things on my shelves.
On rainy days the lonesome call before it reaches the road runs through my body like a caress, I get goosebumps. When I can sleep with my windows open I listen for the midnight trains passing. You can hear the air rush away from the locomotive, the whine of the engine as it struggles to pull thousands of pounds of metal and ore to the electricity plant down by the Bay. The way the whistles echo so much farther at night, how so little else is sounding to distract your ears away from the urgency of the trains approach.
Occasionally something happens that is out of the ordinary. When I was little it happened twice, once in winter so we could see it from our kitchen, the train derailed. We heard it, and then we saw it. Mom, who was an explorer at heart, got her shoes on and let us accompany her to “see if everyone was okay”, or, really, to snoop. We scrambled to get ready, we had to find a way to cross the wetlands and creek that lay between our home and the tracks, less than 1/2 a mile, but significant, none the less. We kids knew how to get there, it was easy for us, we had a rope tied to a tree that hung over the creek at just the right angle to give us a Tarzan-like swing across. Mom would never make it. Plus, much more importantly, we weren’t allowed to use that rope or to cross the creek. So we had to find a ford, which we did, a bit further north and away from the rope.
Once across the accident was gloriously right in front of us. Coal chunks scattered everywhere, cars tipped on their sides spilling the earths riches out across the forest floor. The smells of the coal mixed with leaf rot, water, fall and moss to create a new smell that was tantalizingly full of excitement. I grabbed for a piece of coal, hoping to keep it, to put it in my collection of stuff. Mom would only let me look at it, it didn’t belong to me, it was the electric companies and they would be by to get it. I thought they wouldn’t miss a piece, but she would likely pat me down before I left so I dropped it after examining it closely. Mom searched for the engineer, made sure he was okay, asked if he needed anything and then we had to go back home. She promised that we would one day walk the tracks between Hall and Mt Oak.
Later that spring she kept her promise. Dad dropped us and a picnic lunch off at Hall Road by the Vets office and we took off promising to be at the other end two hours later. We were so excited, my brother Fred and sisters Martha, Laura and Anne. We explored everything along the way, including an abandoned tobacco barn full of bats and owls. There was a field where we ate lunch, and dozens of places to stop and look at things, like bones of long dead deer, rabbits, rats and whatever that one thing was. Flowers to pick, stones to kick, tracks to balance on and trees to watch in the wind. All too quickly the walk was over.
That was one of the best days of my life.