Railroad Stories: House Overlooked Old Railroad Tracks

First memory is living on a hill that overlooked the old railroad tracks.

| Good Old Days

My first memory is living in a cabin on a hill overlooking the old railroad tracks, miles off the beaten path in Southwest Georgia. I was about 4 years old at the time, a shy, freckled-face kid with my head in the clouds. Our nearest neighbors were sharecroppers on the other side of a cornfield with a little girl my age. We were the best of friends and stuck together like glue.

Many afternoons she and I sat on my rickety steps and listened to the rumble of a Southern Pacific freight train speeding down the tracks. In seconds, it changed from a far-off vibration to a clickity-clack, thunder-like noise 500 feet from us. In passing, the train whistle would toot as the conductor waved to us in an instamatic blur of speed and L&N boxcars. With our hands clasped tightly over our ears, we wouldn't move a muscle until the red caboose disappeared out of sight.

Thinking back, that's when I felt the first stirrings of restlessness taking hold. Even then, I wanted to climb aboard that smoke-belching locomotive and ride the rails to exciting distant places. But my friend wasn't a dreamer like me, she wanted to play. We would sit on the ground and share a cup of "tea," which was actually water from a nearby spring. In my own little world, I'd pretend I was all dressed up in a satin gown on a train bound for unknown adventures.

Dreaming aside, sometimes old hobos, unshaven and dirty, would hop down from the train and wander up the grassy slope to our back door in search of a tiny morsel of food. My mother would oblige with a cup of hot soup and a chunk of cornbread, looking past the ragged clothes to a hungry soul down on his luck. Her Christian belief was that no one should go hungry in this land of plenty.

In 1956, after my sixth birthday and before I started first grade, my cousin, Annie, came to visit. She rode a passenger train all the way from Riverside Junction, not more than 20 miles away, although to me it seemed like a hundred. Man, was I impressed! Annie was old, in her 20s. When she was ready to return home, I, being the youngest of three siblings and considered the "baby," threw a tantrum because I wanted to go with her, and I finally got my chance to ride the train.

We crossed a trestle high above the Chattahoochee, snaking its way southward between the Alabama and Georgia state lines. I pressed my nose against the win¬dow and gazed down at moss-covered oaks and clumps of sycamore trees hugging the banks of that muddy river. I remember a lonesome whistle and the pungent smell of the coal-burning engine.

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