Trains and loss are bound together. Watching a train disappear into the distance can be a woeful thing. Think of all the songs you know where trains symbolize sorrow and longing, like Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, the folk song 500 Miles Away From Home, or Chris Isaak’s 5:15:
“What big dreams we had,
Now I watch those dreams all fade and die.
What big plans we had,
Now I watch those trains go rolling by.
Rolling by, rolling by.
I’m watching the trains.”
I met a kind and soft-spoken model railroader at a recent event who mentioned during breakfast that his wife of many years had passed away six months prior. I talked with him about my Dad and how I realized that when people die, you change. He nodded in agreement and shared his story about his wife’s long illness and how much he missed her. I could see how her death had broken him open, and yet there he was, standing there bearing his grief with a quiet dignity. I wished him well, touched his arm and started walking away when he pulled me back and hugged me.
Riding a train will change you. (I recognize that commuting on any metro NY railroad may transform you into a raging lunatic, but this is off-topic.) Although planes and trains take you somewhere else, in a train as the scenery changes so does your perspective. In the air, time is suspended; you ride through the clouds in a tube, dwelling within yourself as much as possible as time moves forward or backward. Perhaps you’ll be jarred from your bubble by a small child rhythmically kicking the back of your seat or by the unexpected, violent reclining of the person seated in front of you. Regardless, we all want to get off planes as soon as possible. Not so with trains, where you can eavesdrop on conversations, watch the trees and houses and streets whiz by and feel the wheels and slow rocking of the car as it click-clacks along the rails.
I’ve sold a lot of my father’s trains, and there are still more to go (sometimes it seems as if they are reproducing). But now I feel a prick of loss as I pack each one for shipment. I want to hold onto them somehow because as long as they’re here, so is Dad, along with the rest of my family. Instead of being scattered across North America like Priority Mail packages, we will gather for Thanksgiving Day with Dad and pretend for his sake that all is well, keeping our thoughts and feelings to ourselves while we smile and laugh. Without him, we are trains fading into the distance.