I used to lay in bed when we lived on eighth street in Trion and listen for the freight trains to roll into the rail yard at the mill. We lived just up that steep hill from Riegel textile. Back then, I had a rocket arm and I could stand in my front yard and throw a rock almost to that railroad track.
I listened for the train because the movement of it as it came in and out with loads of cotton and coal, was comforting. Strange isn’t it, what we become used to? I could tell when the cars were being coupled and uncoupled, and whether the engineer was new or experienced by how loud the “clang” was when the cars hit together or pulled apart. A lot of times I would fall asleep dreaming of riding one of those trains out of town and right across America.
I dreamed of the things I would do: cross the Mississippi River, or maybe jump off at Memphis and get a job on a boat heading towards New Orleans. I’d take my guitar with me, and make some money singing in clubs. But then, maybe I’d ride those trains all the way to California, and go into acting….become a star. I loved music so maybe I should go to New York City and try out for Broadway. I knew all the old Broadway songs because I was able to afford those types of .33 rpm records at Redford’s five and dime. They were the cheapest ones. The new popular records were usually 3.99, while “My Fair Lady” and “Broadways Greatest Hits” were .99 cents. More music for the money, and besides, I could hear the hit songs on the radio.
I dreamed and schemed the world of a twelve year old boy, laying in my bed underneath that wide rollout window. The one I could crane my head back, and look up out of at the night sky and get a glimpse of the moon, and some stars, and the occasional plane flying overhead.
Those years on eighth street went by quickly. Looking back now, way too fast. From age twelve to seventeen I lay there and listened and dreamed.
I am reminded many mornings lately of those days because as I walk around the neighborhood in the early morning, the sound of the CSX going down the tracks parallel to highway 41, drifts up from downtown Ringgold. I can easily discern it off in the distance, and having walked the paths right next to where it runs, and having taken pictures of it, I know it’s the same type of train that I remember from my childhood.
My hope is, that somewhere downtown close to the tracks, there’s a twelve year old boy laying in his bed and listening as the train passes by, and dreaming of where it could take him. He may not get there. He may follow a totally different path from what he dreams, and be as happy as I am with where he ends up. But the dreaming will do him good, and give him some happy memories. And sometimes memories are worth more than gold.