A house! My parents were buying a house, and we could move out of this apartment over a hardware store. Hooray!
It was time to buy a house, my parents decided, because my sister had been born recently, and the layout of our apartment made it hard to keep a baby in a quiet place when company came. I think my bedroom used to be a pantry. The place was so small that it didn’t allow my Mom any privacy to rest for an hour or two while I watched my sister. So it was time to find a larger home.
After looking at what seemed to me like a hundred houses, my parents bought an old converted Victorian on the street behind the apartment, providing them some income from rentals, and keeping us in the same old neighborhood. That was good because I didn’t have to leave my friends behind. The bedroom I eventually shared with my sister felt like a ballroom. Even better, the train tracks were one house over!
Now, when you’re twelve, the idea of living close enough to passing trains is pretty exciting: I would go out on the front porch and wave to the conductors as the train passed, and count cars on a freight train. Sometimes, an engineer would be on the platform of the caboose. I’d get a real treat then: three short whoops of the whistle. Other times, I would just read the container crs for the names of the companies shipping goods. Best of all were the car haulers. I got one of the first peeks at the new models each year. The passenger cars added entertainment, too. Often, I would watch the people in the window seats and try to guess what they did for a living, why they were on the train, where they were headed…
Unfortunately, trains can be a bit of a nuisance, too–like when you’re watching your favorite mystery show and, just when the detective is telling everyone who did it, the train would go by, rattling all the windows with the whoosh created by its speed. In those days, there were no ear phones to plug into the TV set; there were no recording devices or cable companies that allowed you to back up and listen again. If you missed it, you missed it. And the whole house really shook. Although my mother never made them, I can guarantee the house was not in a location that allowed baking a perfect souffle. Amazingly, it was easy to get used to the passage of trains during the night. Within a week, they stopped waking me. And yes, it’s true: I would wake up when a very regular train was running very late. Silence woke me.
Years later, when I lived in California, my husband would marvel at me because I slept through earthquakes. I’m convinced that the experience of living so near to train tracks in my youth was responsible for this. Anything short of 5.5 on the Richter scale was only a passing train…