Every now and then I hear it; a low, muted whistle; faint from under the floor boards. Then, the sound of the hard working shifter, pushing and pulling rolling stock into place behind the locomotive, pulsing impatient steam as it waits to release the brake and hurl itself into the sunrise. I open the door and pause at the top of my subway stairs. A rush of warm wind hits me, breezing through my hair as a train passes underneath with a whoosh! followed by the cuchuck, cuchuck, cuchuck, cuchuck of the wheels as they fade into a nearby tunnel. My Dad is calling to me from my cellar railroad.
Or, am I calling to him? It’s been many months since I posted on this blog. Instead of Selling Dads Trains, I went back to school full-time, which is no easy feat in midlife. I’m surrounded by 20-somethings whose life experience is very different; they are welcoming, yet I feel like an alien. I don’t feel old; instead I feel incomprehensible, like the world of civics lessons, rotary-dial phones, 13 TV channels and carburators. And steam locomotives, and fathers who worked as machinists.
These days, when the whistle gets loud enough or when I feel the rumbling underground, I go down the basement stairs, and immerse myself in my father’s world. The trains carry my memories in boxcars and Pullman coaches; they know where I came from and who I am. My hands assemble a locomotive, or test a motor on a multi-meter. I wonder how a New York Central caboose ended up in a box labeled “Baltimore & Ohio”. Standing on my station platform, I realize that I miss myself; a woman who can write a pretty good academic essay but finds resolution and joy in the simplicity of a basement full of railroad mysteries.