Childhood, and Train Whistles, and My Grandmother

Summer evenings on the porch are quiet, except for the occasional  sound of a train whistle in the distance.  I love that sound.  When I was a little girl, a train whistle meant excitement and memories.  I was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia.  It’s “the big city”, and the central downtown area was the train station.  There is something majestic about a grand, old train station with polished brass and wood.  It was history, kept alive.

Trains were prevalent throughout the state.  With a countryside of enormous rolling hills and dramatic landscape, it was the trains that people depended on to transport people and goods from the cities like Huntington out to the country.  Roads?  The interstate didn’t exist, and most roads were more of a roller coaster than a highway.  But the trains had been there ‘forever’, it seemed.  They could go everywhere.  Dependable, and oh so exciting!

My first childhood memory is the sound of a train.  I was sleeping in the family log house in Lowell, West Virginia.  This was way out in the country.

   The Log House   

The house today is known as the Graham House and is on the National Historic Register.  But, back then in the 50’s, my family still owned the house.  The history is thrilling; it is the oldest two-story log house west of the Appalachian mountains, built in the early 1770’s.  My grandmother, Nan, lived in the house until she was married.  She told me many times the story of Indian raids.  On one occasion the children were in the summer kitchen and ran to the house.  The boy did not survive and the girl was kidnapped. It took the father eight years to get his daughter back, trading horses with the Indians. Family stories; so important.


The sound of the old steam engine train whistling by as I slept at the old log house is one of my fondest memories.  That was what I heard every evening as I fell asleep.  I loved it, and I loved that old house.  Hearing a train again today in the evening on the porch takes me back to those childhood days.  I stop to listen, not wanting to miss one whistle.  Wonderful memories.

In 1964, I boarded the train in Huntington with Nan and my cousin Laura to return for a long summer visit in Lowell with family, and of course the Log House.  We always called it “The Log House.”  I remember the excitement of the train ride, and the feeling of going past places and vistas that people never get to see from a car.  The first thing I did when we arrived at the Log House was to run upstairs and find my bed; the one I slept in as a child.  I remembered.  By then, 1964, the house was no longer in the family, so we slept at our cousin’s house next door.  And, I still heard that train whistle, even though many years since my childhood had passed.

When I recently visited the house with my husband, my first visit since 1964, I immediately recognized everything. I ran up the stairs and felt along the wall beside my bed, as there had been holes for rifles to go through when fending off an Indian raid. The holes were still there, just as I remembered, and just as Nan had told me.

Is it the sound of the train that makes my memories crystal clear?  I think so. On the playground at school the far away sound of a train goes by in the morning. Often I have the children listen carefully, and then I tell them about sleeping in a log house and listening to a train.  Stories are the keepers of words and memories.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Early Education, geography, history, Imagination, storytelling, Teaching young children, trains and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to Childhood, and Train Whistles, and My Grandmother

  1. frenchc1955 says:

    This is beautiful. I love the last sentence “Stories are the keepers of words and memories.”

  2. I love the sound of train whistles too, and that’s a great line there; Stories are the keepers of words and memories.”

  3. Family stories are priceless. Thank you for sharing yours as well as the lovely log house. Wonderful post, Jennie! 🙂

  4. John Kraft says:

    Lovely, just lovely.

    It brings back memories of my youth in W. PA.

  5. gouparchery says:

    good post

  6. myfailurestep,Education says:

    Priceless memories when shared touch our hearts, today world is in our head, matters of heart are been forgotten, Good to read about your memories and nice pics.

  7. myfailurestep,Education says:

    Priceless Memories when shared touch the hearts, todays world we Live in our heads, Matters of heart are been forgotten, Good to read about your memories, Nice Pics.

  8. myfailurestep,Education says:

    Priceless memories touch the hearts when shared, todays world is living in heads, matters of heart are been forgotten, good to read about your memories. Nice Pics.

  9. They certainly are. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I said goodbye to my 97 year old grandfather this week. I spent all evening annotating my old photographs because I’m afraid my stories may not be remembered one day.

    • Jennie says:

      I know exactly what you mean. Writing down all that you remember is a good thing to do. Even something small or what may seem insignificant could mean a lot to someone. I’m so sorry your grandfather has passed. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  10. beetleypete says:

    Great personal history that goes back to the earliest days of your country. I grew up near congested train tracks close to a railway goods depot in central London. Steam trains, shunters, whistles, much the same.
    Trains here no longer have whistles, and I live 20 miles from the nearest station.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  11. A wonderful post Jennie and how stunning to have been able to actually sleep in The Log House and so pleased it has been preserved now for others to visit.. I have put in the blogger daily this evening.. thanks Sally

  12. We didn’t have a car when I was young so all our journeys were by bus ( or trolleybus) or train. I lived near the railway, the gas works and the allotments and went on holiday by steam train. I was outraged when Beeching cut all the little railway lines and am happy that some are coming back into use in the UK.

    • Jennie says:

      The old steam trains are my favorite, Julie. How wonderful to have traveled by train or trolley, and not by car. Good to hear that some trains are coming back where you live in the U.K. Best to you.

  13. A train whistle – bliss! I was greatly influenced by reading Nesbit’s The Railway Children. The thought of your growing up in a Log House sparks my imagination as well. Beautiful post.

  14. Dan Antion says:

    I love the sounds of train whistles and of trains rumbling by. The Log House sounds like a wonderful place, filled with family history and rich stories.

  15. Darlene says:

    What a wonderful childhood you had. Growing up on a farm on the Canadian prairies, I too remember fondly the sound of the train whistle as the train went right by our house on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan. We would sit on the veranda and count the grain cars as dad wanted to know how many the train was delivering. Many grain cars meant there would be a market for his wheat, not many meant he wouldn´t be able to sell it at the time. Us kids considered it an important job to count and deliver the information. To this day I still love train travel, which is still quite popular in Europe.

    • Jennie says:

      Darlene, that is such a wonderful story! Thank you. I never counted train cars or considered how important they were to industry. Seems like you had a wonderful childhood with trains. And yours had more purpose and meaning. I love your story! ❤️

  16. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily 26th July 2017 – Brigid Gallagher, Jenny Fitzkee, Lucy Brazier and The Story Reading Ape. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  17. John Fioravanti says:

    This is a great article, Jennie – your words transported me through time and space to The Log House, the train rides and… the train whistles. I’m sure your students loved these stories!

    • Jennie says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this story, John. When we are transported back to good childhood memories- that can happen with a sound or a smell- well, it’s just terrific.

  18. Trains are magic! And stories about them even more 😄

  19. mitchteemley says:

    Jennie, I’ve nominated you for a Mash-Up Award! To accept and/or see the guidelines, go here:

  20. Di says:

    Lovely post Jennie…
    Sounds, like scents and songs, really do make memories don’t they?
    (I hope this message arrives, as I’ve had trouble again with Spam…)
    Di 💐✨✨

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Di. You lovely message arrived. Sights and sounds really do make memories. Best to you. 🙂

      • Di says:

        I’m so glad, Jennie. I think you’ll find some in Spam on older posts, sadly.
        But this current one arrived and that’s good.
        Thank you for your lovely reply. Wishing you a lovely summer break 💐

      • Jennie says:

        You too, Di. I will check my spam this week!

      • Di says:

        Thank you Jennie… don’t worry. It’s something else to seek in a busy time. Really, I just wanted you to know I hadn’t abandoned you all together!
        Take care and I must let you know that I’m going to be horribly behind from now on due to our relocation. There is such a lot to do…
        I’ll pop by when I can …

      • Jennie says:

        Best to you, and I hope the move goes smoothly.

      • Di says:

        Thank you so much Jennie. I appreciate your kind words 💐🙋🏻

  21. Reblogged this on The Writers Desk and commented:
    An excellent post of a memory not to be forgotten. “Stories are the keepers of words and memories.”

  22. A wonderful story Jennie. Certain sounds and smells, a song or a poem, even a beautifully told story have the ability to transport us back to our childhood and revisit those wonderful days. Your story has done this for me this morning. Thank you. You are a marvelous writer.

  23. I love this story! What a wonderful home you lived in and how special that you got to revisit many years later. I’m also a fan of train whistles, especially in the dark of night. They, as well as lighthouse foghorns, always remind me of the folks out there travelling to distant places while the rest of us sleep. Nice to see a picture of Nan; I think those long ago stories of raids at the Log House would have spooked me a bit.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marcia. I know exactly what you mean, even though yours are a lighthouse foghorns and mine are train whistles. They both do exactly the same thing! Interestingly, the story of the raid didn’t scare me-I think it was how Nan told the story, full of adventure.

  24. ren says:

    I grew up near train tracks in Michigan. I hear the whistle blowing…..

  25. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

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