For as far back as I can remember, I've loved listening to a passing train. Whether it is approaching, with no sound but the horn getting louder as it nears the final bend before it comes into sight; passing, with screeching wheels clacking over the steel rails with a regular rattling rhythm in a rush or a relaxed amble, depending on the crossing's capacity; or wending away, speeding up as its tail clears the crossing like an eel finding new purchase within the waters of the flash flood that swells its stream in late spring.
Romantic notions, maybe. Come by honestly? Definitely.
One of my grandfathers was a brakeman on the Milwaukee Road and one of my uncles worked the rails with him. When we kids - my brother, myself, and our six cousins - heard the horn blow in the early evening during our summer vacations, we knew Grandpa and Uncle Phil were almost home. They both lived in a small, mountain town in western Montana and had only to walk up the hill from the train station to get home.
That diesel horn signaled their imminent arrival but it also meant more family time in grandma's kitchen, around the big table in my aunt's dining room, or in their backyards for dinner time or firefly chasing - often both.
Summer vacations in Montana's mountains meant family time, camping, fishing, riding a borrowed bike down the main street, buying candy at the grocery. The smells, sights and sounds are ones I remember often this time of year.
The city I live in now is small, though exponentially larger than the mountain town of my youthful summers, but the train runs right through it. Most nights, The Hub and I can hear the horn and the rumble of the late train when it passes through, about a mile and a half away as the mourning dove flies. If we're lucky on a drive through town, we get stopped at the light at Main and Railroad and get to watch it.
But if I'm really lucky, like I was yesterday, I'm getting out of my car in the public lot next to the yoga studio just as the train is beginning its approach to the intersection.
Yesterday's conductor nodded at me as I watched and waited for him to pass. It made me wonder how often kids, of any age, stop to watch trains go by. Maybe with the success of the space shuttle and now SpaceX's success, we've lost the childlike wonder of what was once the grandest form of travel and freight carriage. I feel kind of lucky that I haven't lost it.
I still can't resist a train - nor a memory.