The Comfort of That Faraway Sound

Sleep has not come easy for me for the past couple of weeks. There’s a lot happening on the home front. We have vacation coming up in a couple of weeks. There will be fifteen of us from around the nation gathered in a six bedroom house over in Bradenton near Anna Marie Island. We’re taking the boat, so there has been lots of prep work involved. A friend from Texas is flying in to our place a few days early and I’m really excited about this get-together. It’s an online group making this Odyssey and none of us have met in person. So this should be fun.

We have a young man staying with us temporarily. He will be house and dog sitting for us. He’s already pressured washed my pool deck, driveway, sidewalks and front patio, pruned all the palm trees, weeded my gardens, hauled off old lumber, washed all the ceiling fans on the lanai and cleaned out my pool twice…all while working a full-time job. He’s volunteered this work without us asking. He’s certainly earning his keep.

This evening we have the grandkids coming over while mama and daddy have date night. They love my chicken with rice and mushrooms and steamed green beans, so that’s what’s on the menu. The little one of the three just started walking. This should be interesting. They’ve all spent the night over together before and we survived. I’m just praying date night doesn’t get too jiggy. Not sure if I could handle four.

I spent nights over with my grandparents. They were my saving grace. Even after foster care I spent weekends there. After moving into The Ethel Harpst Home, we still came “home” on Holidays and summers. My mother’s mother lived in the small town in Georgia near the countryside where I raised my kids, until she fell ill and moved in with my Aunt. We bought her house and renovated it.

pmtn05dtpmThe town is divided by a railroad track. Grandma worked as a tailor at a little shop on one side of the tracks and she lived on the other side. She used to joke that she had her hands in the pants of every man in town. It’s amazing how we were trusted to walk from the shop to the house and back as such small children, crossing two busy highways and the tracks. We would get out and walk the tracks picking blackberries for something to do while she was working. We knew to get off the tracks when we felt them rumble, long before we heard the train or saw it. We ran all over town unsupervised, playing with the rabbits and kittens at the feed and seed store, watering the shop owner’s flowers, sliding down ice slides in the old ice house on hot summer days. We carried her deposit envelope to the bank every afternoon, never thinking about getting robbed. I couldn’t imagine giving my grandchildren such free reign in the city today.

Train passing through Pine Mountain in front of bank.

Train passing through Pine Mountain in front of bank.

At night, lying beside my grandma in her big feather bed, I would toss and turn unable to sleep, my head spinning with the day’s events. She would tell me to listen to the night sounds; the rain on the rooftop, the dogs barking, the mockingbirds, cats fighting and, without fail, the sound of the train passing through town.

My late mother and my grandson share the same birthday, March 26th. He’ll get his presents from us tonight. Last night, I lay restless in bed thinking of her and what she would think of her grandchildren. The faraway whistle of the train was the last thing I heard.

38 thoughts on “The Comfort of That Faraway Sound

  1. Very nice memory. Good advice on how to fall asleep too. Should try that out myself when my mind is running wild. Been wondering about that ‘free range kid’ thing as well. Since I live on the block I grew up on, I remember running around from morning to night. Just had to listen for when I was called in for something like lunch or an appointment. Doesn’t seem to work that way. The cars that come down the block seem faster and less concerned with anyone being in the way. Most kids are hooked into electronics. Just seems like a different landscape.

    • Strange, isn’t it, how things change? As pre-teens and teens living in Pine Mountain, I let my kids roam, encouraging them to get out of the house and go exploring. They rode their bikes around and brought home friends they’d made. When I was in the first and second grades, my sister and I walked to and from school together every day. The school was on the far side of the small town. My granddaughter’s school is only a couple of blocks away from her house in the downtown neighborhood where they live. There is a busy five lane road between. I would get in my car and drive four miles from my house to pick her up and carry her home rather than expect her to walk it. It’s crazy out there.

      • Those big roads are tricky. They didn’t seem scary when I was younger. Now, I don’t even like crossing them as an adult. We have a 6 lane that is always having accidents too. Texters behind the wheel, people stepping into traffic as if they’re invulnerable, and whatever else you can think of. Some days I wonder if part of the problem is that we’re so distracted these days. Neighbors would be around and see the kids outside. Now, you tend to think people are staring at a computer or their phone instead of out the window. Not sure where I’m going with this.

        • We’re all too busy. That’s why I have trouble sleeping. I’m trying to live five lives in one. I had relaxation tapes that worked for a while, getting you to contract and relax all the individual muscles of your body one at a time. My other grandparents were farmers. They were up before dawn, working physical labor all day. We used to laugh at them when they came in for dinner at noon and fell asleep shelling beans in the living room. An hour or two later, they were right back out in the fields and gardens until after nightfall. I don’t recall them ever having any trouble sleeping.

          • The muscle tension is what freaks me out. It’s uncomfortable and I never know exactly what’s going on. The whole cleansing breath thing doesn’t work a lot. Interesting about the physical labor thing. That seems to make it easier to fall asleep. Wonder if physical exhaustion helps one fall asleep while mental exhaustion makes it more difficult.

            • I believe that’s how it works. I know I sleep so much better after a day of working in the yard or running around town. Restless after a day in front of the computer. That was true when I was working as a nurse. A day of physical work on a unit always allowed me to sleep better than a day spent at the desk.

  2. Well done. One of the projects I wish I had time for is something related to my grandmother. Two of my grandparents passed away before I was born. A third did so when I was very young. So, my maternal grandmother was the only one I ever knew. She came to this country from Switzerland when she was 18 and had her share of tragedy, but lived to see her two children grown, to see her seven grandchildren to grow into adulthood. Sadly she died a few months before her first grandchild was born. But, there are stories she told and my own memories of her that I would really like to turn into something, but where’s the time.

    Thank you for sharing this memory of yours.

    • There is a story there for sure. I used to tell myself that the cycle of life was broken by my mother’s missing link. It was negative self-talk that always made me feel detached from her. I’m glad I can recall her face, because I see her in my children’s faces, in my grandchildren’s faces. She was a prima ballerina in Mobile at the age of thirteen (I certainly didn’t inherit her grace or poise), and now my little granddaughter is doing well in ballet and just got promoted to the competition squad in gymnastics. The cycle of life goes on…with or without all the links.

  3. I used to love that train whistle when I was lying in bed at night as a kid. And the rain on the roof, too. All the exciting little comforts that I now feel far away from.
    Hearing your account of your life right now was so interesting to me, but I burst out laughing when you said you couldn’t handle four haha. Yeah, they better not have too much fun on that date!

  4. “I’m just praying date night doesn’t get too jiggy. Not sure if I could handle four.” This is great, Susan! I so enjoyed reading this post. My grandmother lived very close to the train tracks in West Virginia. The train whistle has always been a lonesome sound for me.

    • It’s a comfort sound to me as lonely as it is. I would always try to imagine people traveling to far off places on the train. Then it went all freight and no passengers. For me, it brings back memories of being snuggled next to the warmth and comfort of my grandma, whom I only got to see from time to time.

  5. What a great post. I did all the things you talked about as a kid. Taking our bikes all over town, going out in the brush and making a sledding run. It really was a different world. Even a passenger train is an oddity unless Amtrack runs through your town. Meeting up with the online crowd has to be interesting. I’ll watch for that report.

    • We have the Amtrack passing through Orlando. Sometimes I’ll hear three or four trains go by in the course of an hour and a half. Didn’t have that as a kid. They’re here and I’ve already changed my first dirty diaper. We gave him Spiderman underwear for his birthday, and a chef’s outfit (he hasn’t opened that yet), and he says he’s going to keep Spiderman clean and dry. Uh-huh.

  6. Berries and train whistles figure large in my memory too.

    How I would love to have a house sitter like yours. We’d start with pressure washing and go on from there . . .
    Tonight two grand-boys spend the night with us. After pizza, we watched “Living on One Dollar,” a Netflix documentary about 4 college students living in a poverty-stricken area of Guatemala on a dollar each a day.

    Enjoy that well-earned vacation.

    • We played soup chef with all of grandmother’s spices, chased the dogs around, rode the tricycle on the lanai and then Grandpa offered to read “Rocket Learns to Read”. Little man didn’t want a story so Grandpa came out and started reading his very boring book out loud. Little man decided he wanted to hear “Rocket Learns to Read” after all, so he went to bed with Grandpa, while Grandmother lullabyed sister to sleep in the rocking chair. I hope they’re down for the count.

  7. What a lovely post, Susan–and funny, too. I also laughed at the remark about not having a fourth grandchild.
    Beautiful memories of your time with your grandmother (and I also laughed at her remark about having a hand in all of the men’s pants). I hope your grandchildren will also have fond memories of time spent with you.

    Your upcoming vacation sounds like so much fun, and how fortunate you are to have found someone to care for your house and dog.

    • Thanks, Merril. Grandma made a joke book she kept on the mantel and when people came over, she would sometimes take it down. We all cringed cause we’d heard them all before. She would have been a hoot on FB. The grandkids are still here. Baby cried from three to four a.m., and I sang lullabies so we slept in. Little man is having fruit and cheese for breakfast. Yeah, our temp guest has been an awesome one.

  8. We do live in different times. As kids we roamed wherever we wanted for the most part. But my grandbabies will be under the watchful eye of a Nana who knows that evil lurks outside. I enjoyed your memory. It reminded me of when I was a child. ❤

  9. Susan, what a beautiful post. I was completely transported to another time. You brought all of those memories vividly to life.

    The sound of a train whistle in the distance is one of my favorite sounds in the world. It’s so haunting and lonely. As a kid, I roamed great distances too, never thinking of the danger. It’s sad how the world has changed, but our memories of the past are something to cherish. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful post!

    • Thank you, Mae. I know my granddkids are making their own fond memories, but we’ll never go back to those simpler times. I still lay awake until I’ve heard the train pass. Only now, I hear several motorcycles, planes, car horns, and sirens before that comfort sound.

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