Tag Archives: childhood

Why so many train whistles?

As a child I would lie in my bed at night during the warm summer nights listening to the whistles of the trains delivering raw materials  to the local steel company or hauling away the finished products. I could clearly hear the cars coupling together, banging in the still of the night. Kind of a climatic haunting resonating sound. I would only hear the sounds a couple of times and then the night would be still.

The company was only about four miles from our house. As the wind blows, it was much closer, nearly straight up. Our house was on the top of a hill and the sound carried clearly on the summer breezes. Even the sound of the whirring fan did not mute the trains’ mournful tones.

I never knew the reason why the sound fascinated me. It  created in me a deep desire to travel, a deep sense of yearning…not so much for adventure but to escape the reality of the loneliness of my childhood. The sound seemed to mimic the desires of my heart to get away. Perhaps if I could ride the train it would take me to warmer places in winter and cooler places in summer where people would be friendlier and would grant to me the present of acknowledging my presence. They would welcome me into a loving family. Alas, that never happened. I grew up and moved on.

I have lived in my present home for almost thirty four years. I grew so accustomed to the whistles blowing that I paid no attention. It was especially easy in those months when the windows were closed against the blasting heat or the frigid cold. It was easier even than that when fifteen years ago I purchased double paned windows. I almost forgot there were trains.

April and sometimes May offer rare opportunities to sleep with the windows open and the fan on low to circulate the air. However, it also enables the sounds of the trains to carry in the stillness.

My home is located between two rail lines to the east and the west about three miles or less apart. During the day I don’t really hear the trains. Perhaps the engineers don’t blow the whistle as much or the TV blocks out the sound. But at night, especially with the windows open, I can not only hear the whistles, I can hear the rhythmic moving wheels of the trains on the tracks. Perhaps that is why I have the TV on so much. The house can really become still in such an almost empty house. It is at those times that even the sound of my dog’s toenails on the tile can seem loud.

I’ve tried several times the past few days to keep the TV turned off. It is then, even with the windows closed, I can hear the trains both east and west. There is a crossing about a mile from the house. I swear the engineer blows the whistle at least five minutes before it crosses the road and a couple of minutes more once it passes. A few minutes later the whistles blow again at a crossing about a mile further down the track. If it were just once a day it would not be noticeable. I seem to notice it four or five times during the night from one side or the other, maybe more. I’m even becoming more aware of the sound several times during the day. It doesn’t seem to matter if the windows are open or closed.

What used to create in me a childhood yearning and a sense of hope is now seeming to create a repulsion. If I sleep with the TV on, I wake up often usually because the commercials blare so loudly. If the room is quiet, I wake up hearing the incessant moaning of the trains. Whereas, as a child, I felt the trains calling to me, as a senior, I feel the sounds taunting me. It creates in me a sense of anxiety, an annoyance, like some day soon I’ll ride that train forever. It will be here to pick me up.  It is going places now that I will never go. All I can do is wait for it to come to me. What was once a comforting sound, symbolizing a way to get away, now mocks me.

Strange how the meaning of sounds can change with age.

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The answering machine speaks the truth

This video of an Australian answering machine has been through my mailbox more than once, but perhaps some of you have not received it.The video says that it is an actual message to the parents. I would like to think this actually happened. If it didn’t it should have.

As I’ve said before, I was fortunate enough in my teaching experience to teach the majority of my time in a gifted and talented program. As a result, I had few real run ins with my parents.

I do remember one parent.. Her eight year old firstborn was in in my class. He was a nice enough little guy but he was not the most organized. He was supposed to hand in a writing assignment. When it came time to collect it, it was nowhere to be found and he was quite rightly upset. However, he was not upset with himself. He was upset with me because I, in my kind-hearted attempt to show mercy, told him he could do it over again and I would accept it. I did accept late assignments although they started with ten points off the grade to begin.

He didn’t say anything but obviously he said something when he got home. The teachers in our program often stayed several hours after school because there was so much planning and lesson preparation to be done plus grading of the assignments. These children routinely accomplished in one or two lessons what the regular classroom did in a week or more. Thus more work. I was staying late.

In those days the school did not find it necessary to lock the doors until everyone was out. The mother came directly to my room. It was obvious that she was upset.

She swore up and down that her child had completed the assignment. I never mentioned to her son that I didn’t think he did. She felt I didn’t believe him. (Which may have been the case.) She proceeded to take everything out of his locker and go through it all. Not finding it there, she then attacked his desk and repeated the process. That was difficult for her because she was a hefty woman and the desks at those time had cubbyholes underneath the seats for the children to store all their materials. There was just enough room for books and folders, yet some children had a knack of accumulating a lot of other junk (like graded assignments) stuffed into the spaces around the books.

She sat on the floor and actually cried out of frustration of not finding the essay. It was really quite a show of parental concern. “I know he DID it. I put it into his backpack.” Evidently she still didn’t understand the concept that I would accept it as a late paper on Monday morning. His was the only one missing from the entire class. I swear she was about to accuse me of picking on her child and disposing of the essay he had worked so hard to produce. She didn’t go quite that far that evening to my face. She gave up and on Monday morning her son handed me his assignment.

There were a couple of more incidents with this mother that I won’t detail but the one on Valentine’s Day REALLY set her off. The children were allowed to bring Valentines to class to pass out. As an art lesson we even made bags for them to hold the cards. The bags were all lined up along the ledge beneath the chalk boards. I’ll stop here to say that the children were told explicitly, and were given a note to go home, that they were only to sign each card without putting any other child’s name on it. They were to go to the bags one at a time and slip one valentine into each bag.

Now granted there were some holes in the plan. If a child really wanted to give another child a particular valentine, it would not have been impossible to do it. Also, if the child didn’t wish to give a particular child a valentine, it would have been easy enough to skip a bag. Either way, the plan was not foolproof. The instructions were put into force for two reasons: one, it would have taken almost the entire time allotted for the party for each child to go back and forth trying to find a particular bag. Also, it assured as much as possible that each child would get a valentine from every other child regardless of how unpopular they might be.

If you guessed that the child in question came to school with every valentine addressed to each individual child, you are correct. I told him to take the valentines out of the envelopes and do what every other child in the class knew what to do. Again, the mother was very upset. Her child had spent much time the night before agonizing over choosing just the right valentine for each classmate…and I ruined the whole day for him.

That child is in his mid 30s now. I have heard about many other students but I’ve not heard any more from him. I often wonder if the mother ever let her child be responsible for his own actions or take the consequences of not listening to or following directions. It makes one wonder. This answering machine would have been ideal to answer her calls when she called about his mean teachers.

I cannot remember the time line but it seems soon after that event the old fashioned doors were chained at 3:30. Teachers now had to exit the front door which could be locked without chains. There were no answering machines in those days. It’s too bad. Other teachers had parents who were like that as well. It could have saved a lot of hassle…if this is really how it could be handled. Namaste. Attic Annie

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On the Road again…can I travel it again so soon?

I have several cousins and a sister, but there is only one left with whom I am in contact with very often. She was three years ahead of me in school. When we were very young, we played together frequently. This blog is not necessarily in chronological order.

I can’t remember walking the mile home from grade school with her very often because she moved on to high school after my fifth grade year, but I know we did.  My sister graduated to high school when I finished second grade so my cousin took over the job of walking me home safely.

One day she tripped and got some cinders in her knee. The whole village was a massive coal area. We could never fall down anywhere without skinning our knees and ending up with black flecks forever embedded in our skin. She kind of limped the last four or so blocks to my house and I took her upstairs to the bathroom. She sat on the landing with her feet on the steps while I washed the injury and applied the Watkins petroleum jelly. Why would I remember that? Because she thanked me and told me I did a good job helping her. I didn’t hear praise in my house. I tended to remember those moments.

She was much more a sister to me than my biological sibling. I can remember a few things from our childhood. I was a semi-frequent dinner guest. I believe it was in fourth grade when I was sitting at the table using my spoon as a shovel. My aunt noticed and made the comment, ” Aren’t they teaching you ANY table manners at home?” The truth was that, no, no one was paying much attention to me in any area of my life. I think she was more frustrated with the absence of any parenting but I took it as a failure on my part. I remember feeling my face turn hot and glancing at my cousin who just kind of put her head down.

We would play in the living room with my cousin’s toys while her mother played the piano. I used to love to listen to her playing and signing.  We played in her bedroom. One day I attempted a summersault and my heel hit her in her chest. It must have been when she was first aware of becoming a woman. She said, ” If I can’t breastfeed my children because of this, I’ll never forgive you.” She clutched her hands to her chest. That was my first lesson in female biology. I had no idea what breastfeeding was about. I never asked her about that when we were older.I carried that guilt and fear that I had permanently injured her for years.  She has two sons in their forties. I guess their infancies turned out alright.

For the earlier part of my childhood the road ended after her house. There were many wild berry bushes and we would spend many summer hours picking those berries. Eventually the road was constructed through the berry patches and across the ditch to extend it another couple of blocks and new houses were built further down the road and the wild berry picking days were over.

We made mud pies together in her back yard when it rained. Her dad also had berry bushes back there and we would pick the sweetest red raspberries and blackberries and take them into the house. We’d set ourselves down at the table and eat those berries with sugar and whole milk and think we were in heaven.

Her mother saw to it that I had a few outings since there was no one at my home all week who would take me anywhere. I remember the sled trip to the park and sliding down the hills. I also remember attending the children’s theater held in the auditorium of the junior high school. There were 3 D movies and trips to the drive-in complete with sacks of popcorn popped on the stove by my aunt.

Her parents gave her a 45 rpm record player and she had at least a couple of Elvis Presley records that we would sit on her bedroom floor and listen to. She began playing clarinet and I would listen to her practice. Her first three years of high school we didn’t really do that much together. Then when I was a freshman and she was a senior, we were both in band and she would provide the transportation to band events. Afterwards we would drive into the south side of Peoria and go to something called a drive-in where we bought a 15c hamburger, 10c French fries, and a 10c coke after the games.

Too soon she was off to college out of town. We wrote letters occasionally but seldom saw each other. Then I was off to college too. She married and within a year or so had a son during my final year of college. I visited her once and we sat on the swing of the house she and her husband were living in. We’d see each other at family gatherings maybe a few times a year but at that point we were leading separate lives.

She and her husband built their own home while her two boys were still quite young. She was leading her married life and I was the single 70s teacher. Our lives couldn’t have been much further apart. I married, moved away, and wrote once in a while to her father who would relay news between the two of us.

The last time I saw her for many years was at a family Thanksgiving when my son was not yet two months old. The two of us took a walk after lunch. I confessed to her I felt  that having my son was the only thing I had done right in the world. I could tell her that because I knew she would understand.

I guess it was about fifteen or so years ago when the cousins started to meet every two years for a family reunion. She and I gravitated towards each other once again. The only reason I would go would be to see her. Somewhere along that time line something was developed for mass communication called email. She was reluctant to get a computer but was finally yanked into the end of the 20th century. Long distance rates plummeted to where they were reasonable and at last cell phones.

We had ways of communicating now that kept us in touch far more often than before. We became close again. Sometimes I think we are closer now than we have ever been.

Some time in the not too distant future that closeness will end. She had breast cancer about three or so years ago and every year was a milestone that it didn’t return. In some people the effects of the chemotherapy and radiation she endured causes an aggressive form of leukemia.

She called me a few of days ago to tell me she was going into the hospital and about all the aggressive therapy they had planned for her. She called me last evening. I had planned to give her a couple of days to get into the routine of the hospital stay before I called her but she beat me to it. Her voice sounded more firm and energetic like she had already gotten some energy back. She told me that there was a 40% chance that she could go into remission. I thought that sounded somewhat positive because she had fought so hard during her earlier chemo days. Then she said there would be a 15% chance that it wouldn’t reoccur. It dawned on me suddenly what she was telling me. She said she checked herself back out of the hospital and would be spending the rest of her days with her family.

I just walked down this same road with my oldest childhood friend whom I lost in November. It is not going to be easy. I promised I would giver her time with her family before I flew back up to see her and spend time with her. She talked about the peace and calmness that her decision gave her. She’s ready. I’m not. I’ve got to work on that so when I do see her we don’t spend the time crying. I’m hoping she can provide me with some memories I have forgotten. We make each other laugh all the time. That is my prayer that when I see her we will laugh until we cry one more time.



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Searching for my teapot past

Mine was painted "thatch"

Mine was painted "thatch"

Almost the one I want. Keep your eyes out for me

Did you ever wish you’d kept one thing from your childhood? I was in Washington, DC when my sister and aunt broke up my household and sold almost everything in an estate sale. At the time I couldn’t think of all that many things I wanted from the house. I really didn’t have much of an emotional attachment to anything. At the time I just felt a sensation of relief that I now had no more connections with that house. I did get the pre-WW II beer stein and a few other things. I was on my own with very little space to spare so I couldn’t have saved much.

It dawned on me much later that I would have wanted to keep a two cup teapot much like the one in the picture above. The one we had was not white. It was painted a wheat color. I’m not sure anymore but I think the chimney was blue, maybe not. The spout was painted to make it look like a tree trunk.

It had been my mother’s that she used when she was bedridden her last year of her life. We also had a lap tray with legs and a glass bendable straw. After her death,those items became my play toys. They were stored in the kitchen cabinets. I would drag a chair to the cabinet, climb on top and reach to the high shelf to pull them down when I wanted to play with them.

The kitchen windows let in the afternoon sun. I would sit at the metal table and play in the sunlight. I’d pour water from the pot into a glass and drink it through the straw. I carried on conversations for what seemed hours discussing the important events to my imaginary friends. I most often played by myself. I was good at entertaining myself. I’m sure the housekeeper was somewhere nearby but she wasn’t in the kitchen when I played. It always seemed I was in the house alone…always alone.

What is it about things we attach emotions to? That little teapot, straw, and bed table were my connections to my mother. I was too young to remember much of her at any other time other than in bed.

I only have two memories of my mother. As a pre-schooler I was very determined to do things my way. I climbed the stoop to the front door. My aunt, a nurse who was caring for my mother, came to the door. I wanted to see my mother. I was told that right then Mommy was sleeping. I sneaked around past her and scampered up the stairs. My mother was awake and she greeted me when I appeared at her door. I think I remember these things. I crawled into bed with her with some difficulty because the bed was raised on wooden blocks. She encircled me with her arms and brushed the hair back from my face. She actually talked to me. This didn’t happen too often. My aunt soon appeared and said Mommy needed to rest. I was happy. Mommy kissed my forehead and I jumped out of bed going on my way. My love tank was full.

I think I understand where this guy is coming from:

“This is why sometimes it’s hard to let go of stuff. You’re not really that concerned about the item itself, but you’re losing the connection to someone else or some part of you that the item represents.” Written by Trent

I had let go of the teapot but I’ve been looking for it ever since. I’ve lost the connection I’ve had with my mother and I’ve spent the last four decades trying to regain it. I have her dishware, silverware, crystal, and the silver tea set. These things mean little to me. Some day they will be in an estate sale. They are of

no emotional value. They were always stuck away in cabinets. My globe trotting son certainly has no use for them. I used them before our divorce when I entertained, but seldom after that. For the most part, they are just “stuff”. My nieces have all they need. Perhaps my great nieces may wish for them as a connection to their great grandmother. They certainly never knew her.

Some time I’ll have to sit down and try to figure out why I’m so concerned about gaining back a connection that was so temporary. From the time I was one I spent more time with my aunt next door than I ever did with my mother. I’m guessing since I never knew her when I was old enough to remember, we never had any moments like many other mothers and daughters experience while the daughters are growing. She can always remain my perfect mother and I can always yearn to be back in her arms.

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