the train

Tom Herakovich

 

I knew a little about trains

my Mother and Father and I

went to Washington DC on a train

we saw the Smithsonian and the Lincoln Memorial

I caught pneumonia and almost died

 

in the hospital

my Mother bought me a small red transistor radio

it looked like a rocketship and had a little ear phone

the Navy flew me home

I was too sick for the train

 

my father bought me a train for my first birthday

an American Flyer

he set the train up every Christmas

and each year one of my presents

was a new mechanical wonder for the train set

later, the tables turned and

using money from my mother

each Christmas I would proudly buy a new gizmo for him

 

we had stop and go crossings, cow on the tracks,

trestles, a lumberyard,

a forklift that loaded and unloaded barrels onto special cars,

a RR station with little people, benches, and trees

and a caboose that had a light inside

maybe it was that caboose's light

a childlike brilliance that reflected in my father's eyes

whenever he touched that train

 

but the best thing was that train’s engine

little gelatinous bottles of liquid smoke

poured into the engine's smoke stack

caused puffs of acrid American Flyer train smoke

I can still smell that smoke

 

my father built a wooden box

for the increasing number of mechanical controls

new controls entered into the box by the end of each Christmas day

my mother told me each year that he bought the train for me

but I was sure that train was his

 

each Christmas

setting up the train and carefully plotting the perfect locations

for the ever-increasing paraphernalia was fun

for awhile

but the most fun was planning train wrecks

really good, well planned train wrecks

would cause my friends and I to squeal with laughter

and cause my father to rage

he really loved that train

and usually all too soon he would tire of us abusing his train

and he would carefully oil and wrap each piece of track

place each piece of mechanical magic back in its original box

and the train’s large cardboard home would disappear

gone for another year

 

I grew up and forgot all about the train

then years

overtaken by a late night phone call

much like the cabooses on real trains

my father's light suddenly extinguished

 

after a meaningless ceremony and a twenty-one gun salute

I inherited a neatly folded flag, a few tools, and the train

the flag is buried somewhere

unseen in an old trunk, a few tools survive

and my father's train

lies rusting in a damp basement

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790