My husband and I recently took the grandkids to the circus. Somewhere between the elephants and the camels, the tigers, the clowns and the flying trapeze, my husband asked our wide-eyed eight-year-old if he’d ever thought about running away to join the circus.
“No,” he said, but he patiently listened to the story of how running away to join the circus “was what all little boys dreamed about when Papa was young.” He listened as his Papa explained how the children watched as the tents were erected, and how the animals and circus gear were unloaded from the train.
He thought that today the circus animals and performers probably arrived in trucks and buses. We agreed that was most likely the case.
No more circus trains . . .
As a little girl in a much different place, I don’t think I ever contemplated running away to the circus. But I did want to ride the rails away to faraway places and larger-than-life adventure. My lasting fascination with trains began then. It helped that during summers in a small town, both passenger and freight trains rumbled slowly by, their mournful whistles signaling each passage.
My love for those trains and that whistle continues to this day. Returning by car from a Thanksgiving trip to Santa Fe, I found myself wistfully waving at multiple engines as the miles ticked by in New Mexico and West Texas. Highways follow the tracks in those long, lonely stretches; and the long freight trains speed by.
I was the child who waved to trains at every railroad crossing, and as often as not I received return waves, either from the engineer on the lead engine or from a trainman on the caboose platform.
It may be silly, but I still wave at train engines as I drive across the country. I seldom get a return wave, and I no longer expect one.
But, Sunday . . .
For one short moment, somewhere in the middle of New Mexico, the little girl inside was thrilled! I didn’t see a return wave; instead, I heard a blast of the train whistle. There wasn’t a crossing within miles, so I know the blast was for me!
It brought back a lot of memories.
And I smiled to myself for the next 200 miles or so, thinking of all the trains I’ve watched, and waved to, and ridden. Today, few people notice.
But there once was a time when those trains carried dreams. For me, they still do.