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 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.