Home > Fifty Five Is The New > Eleven-ish…Part One

Eleven-ish…Part One

I woke up this morning with the fresh taste of a memory lingering to the edge of my mind. it stayed ’round most of the day…so I figured Fifty-Five must be trying to tell me something.
So, here it is…. I was eleven years old, attending Catholic school as were all my brothers my sister and most of my peers. I was grade school. I can’t remember which grade, but anyway we kids didn’t take the school bus, didn’t drive and didn’t usually get driven…we walked.
Most of the time we took the short cut, which involved walking along the railroad tracks that ran up along the border between neighborhoods of similarly appointed row houses. The trains were still operating back then…big electric or diesel engines pulling box cars mostly, but there were a few flat beds and an occasional tanker too…not to mention the caboose. Always there was a caboose! That’s where the “bulls” and the other hands stayed between rounds…leastways that’s what I was told.

Sometimes it was frightening walking along the tracks, if it was foggy or dark or if on a tight-squeeze portion of the path. Sometimes it was beautiful, like when it was snowing and we were coming home from midnight mass; brothers taunting with snowballs, mother and us sisters making snow angels and looking at the holiday lights.

There was usually fair warning when the train was under way, they weren’t too fast. You could hear that special whirring as the engine’s motor got nearer and could get across the tracks well before the train got too close.

But every once in a while a kid or someone’s pet or even an adult would get “runned over,” and that put a fresh layer of fear in our parent’s warnings about “the tracks.”

One of my classmates had an unfortunate happenstance on the way to school one day, he came back the following year on crutches-both legs neatly amputated below the knees.

Even though it was frightening and obviously dangerous, I still loved walking along on the wooden ties or trying to balance on the shiny, silvery rails like a tight rope walker in a circus. The two most daunting challenges on such a venture were mastering the art of the railroad trestle bridge and exploring what lay around the next bend.
It made walking to school or church an adventure. I hated the trestles at first, the spaces between each tie seemed miles apart and I was, of course worried that the train would come up from behind…but somehow I got over it and was soon walking further and further down the line.

We kids used the area as our own playground; this in the days before safety helmets and electronic monitoring devices. We built forts up behind the huge billboards next to the old cemetery and smoked cigarettes up behind the Villa de Este apartment complex…some of us even hopped a few trains, keeping an eye for the “bulls” (bouncers to keep “hobos” from getting a free ride) before jumping into an open box car. You could do that sort of thing back then, around 1966. A person could actually sidle up beside a boxcar and hop inside. These days the cars a pretty much kept locked so hoboing isn’t so common now. As I said, things were different back then.

Anyway,to make an already long story not too much longer, there was no way to avoid going over some portion of the tracks so I made the best of it, and learned to actually enjoy it.

A few years ago I had the chance to explore my old haunts; the railroad was gone, its shiny steel ribbon and big black ties pulled up and taken away. Only the power lines and roadbeds remain along with the memories of anyone who grew up with them.

So for today, Fifty Five is the New eleven…for memories,for mastering fears and for returning to yesterday only to find tomorrow.

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