May 26, 2024

The Whistle of the Train Calls Me Home

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It is late in the evening and I feel the breeze blowing through my bedroom window as I slowly drift to sleep. It is a cool summer night in the small town in Indiana where I grew up. I hear the clankety-clank of the train in the distance as it approaches our town. The train tracks are about three quarters of a mile across the cornfields behind our house. As the train approaches each intersection in town, I hear the whistle. At first the whistle sounds far away and faint, but it gets louder and louder as the train slowly moves its way towards our house. The whistle is loudest when the train reaches the nearest intersection to our house and then it grows faint again as it blows for the final crossing before leaving town.

Click here to play my recording of the train passing through my hometown near my mom’s house

I grew up with the sound of that whistle in the background as the train came through town five or six times every day and night. It is a comforting sound to me with so many memories of drifting off to sleep to the whistle or waking up to it. I left my hometown at age 21 but returned almost every year since to visit my family. Up until my mom sold the family home in 2012 after my dad died, I always stayed at that house during my visits. When I stayed in the house I grew up in, I felt a special kind of comfort and peace not found anywhere else. You walk in and everything is immediately familiar and comfortable, and there is a feeling as if you are truly home. In this place the outside world is at bay, your worries and work stress are on hold momentarily, unable to find you while you go back in time and relish the moments.

When my mom sold the family home and purchased a smaller home better suited for her at that time in her life, it felt strange staying at the new house on visits home. It did not feel like home to me, as there were not any childhood memories lingering in its walls. The new house was closer to the train tracks, only about a quarter mile away. Inside the house, the train was so loud it sounded like it was coming through the walls. The whistle was especially loud, but it was not annoying to me because it was the sound of home. Over time, my mom’s new house became the family home where new memories were created. Eventually I felt that comfort and peace in the new house the same as I had experienced in the old family home.

In September of 2020, I traveled home to say goodbye to my mom. My siblings and I took care of her final wishes and laid her to rest beside our dad. We played Tracy Byrd’s The Keeper of the Stars at the graveside services. My mom selected that song for my dad’s funeral and asked us to play it at her funeral too. It is a beautiful song about two people meeting. The lyrics say it was no accident that they met – the keeper of the stars brought them together.

We emptied my mom’s home and sold it to a very nice couple who fell in love with the house as soon as they saw it. For the first time in my life, I would no longer have a family home to return to in Indiana. The parents that were there from my day one, the anchors in my life, were gone. It was a strange feeling and in some ways, I felt like an orphan. I took my mom’s death much harder than I ever would have expected. The finality of both parents being gone forever was not easy to accept and I felt lost for many months. I told my wife that I did not know who I was anymore or what my purpose was. After my dad died, my purpose and that of my siblings was to keep our promise to our dad and look after our mom.

I know my hometown like the back of my hands and memories are everywhere. On the last day before I left to drive back to Florida, I drove around town and the countryside recalling memories of my happy childhood, memories of my teenage years, and memories of returning home as an adult. I sobbed uncontrollably throughout that day recalling those memories and longing for what I could not have, to go back in time and relive it all again.

Whenever I hear a train, the whistle of the train calls me home and the memories come flooding back.

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