Listening to the sound of coming home

Published 11:00 pm Friday, July 19, 2013

If I sit quiet and still in the darkness, I can feel the rumble of the train as it pulled away from Union Station in Montgomery. I can hear the clanking of the wheels and see the world, as I knew it, become an ever-increasing blur as the train picked up speed. I can taste the salty tears that ran down my cheeks.

But I kept my eyes straight ahead. If I had looked back, I would have jumped off the train and run home to Mama.

In all my 18 years, I had never been very far from home or away for long. I had crossed the state line into Georgia and been as far down in Florida as Panama City Beach. I’d crossed over into Mississippi, but I had yet to go as far north as Tennessee.

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And, there I was, going so far from home and not knowing a living soul. I was leaving everything I knew and loved behind for something obscure that had been in my mind and on my heart for as long as I could remember.

Maybe it was the pictures of mountains, buffalos and Indians in Daddy’s Air Corps album that lured me to the West or the stories he told or the books I read about Annie Oakley, Chief Joseph and Buffalo Bill. Maybe it was Mama’s remembrance of the Jewish couple who lived upstairs and how Mr. Eustance would slip away from his wife to bring me a toy and hang around to eat bacon and eggs.

Or maybe it was just born in me to want to go back to Montana, the place where I was born.

That same feeling came over me the other night when the whistle caught my ear as the train rumbled down the tracks way across the pasture.

The “call” home was just as strong as it was those many years ago when I broke Mama’s heart as I rode off on the train.

“You’re taking 10 years off my life,” she cried.

Hopefully, I didn’t do that. But I had to go.

Back then, high school “girl” graduates could either get married or be a teacher, a nurse or a secretary. I didn’t like school. The sight of blood made me feel faint. I didn’t know shorthand and the possibility of being an old maid didn’t bother me at all.

A job out West was what I wanted most in the world. Daddy said I could go. All Mama’s crying and carrying on couldn’t hold me back.

I sat on the porch the other night and listened to the train whistle off in distance. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard such a lonesome sound. I wondered if Mama sat on the porch and waited for the sound of the train bringing me home again. I think she did.