Train Memories, My Childhood, and My Grandmother

In light of National Train Day today, and Mother’s Day tomorrow, this is a beloved repost of my train memories 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.

Nan

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.

Jennie

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.
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78 Responses to Train Memories, My Childhood, and My Grandmother

  1. Ritu says:

    Wonderful memories Jennie! Trains are one of the modes of transport in which I get the best sleep!

  2. Great post, Jennie! Terrific memories!

  3. Fascinating story, Jennie. You are so fortunate to have such memories.

  4. Sue Vincent says:

    Wonderful story, Jennie. I have a rail museum at the end of my village. Every week they have a steaming day and I get to hear the whistles… it always takes me right back to childhood and trips to the seaside with my grandparents 🙂

  5. Dan Antion says:

    This is a great story and a wonderful memory, Jennie. I remember those rolling hills and driving through WV before the highway opened. It’s such a pretty state.

  6. beetleypete says:

    I just adore such memories. I travelled on steam trains as a child, and loved the whole experience. Later in life, I took trains to Paris, and the South of France, then travelled on trains in Soviet Central Asia, and in Singapore and Malaysia. When I still lived in London, I made my last train journeys, on the Eurostar to Brussels, Bruges, and Ghent. Trains have been in my life for as long as I can remember.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • Jennie says:

      My goodness, how wonderful! I loved reading where trains have taken you. And, you have traveled on the full gamete of trains. Steam trains always hold special feelings, don’t they? Like you, I adore these memories. Best to you, Pete.

  7. Wonderful memories, and the images are treasures! Happy National Train Day!

  8. delphini510 says:

    Jennie, I really am taken with your post and it’s history. The train, the log house, your family….it all sounds like enough background for a book. I am very taken.
    As to sounds, I agree, they are very evocative and I am not surprised that you still love the sound
    of trains. I love the sound of trains too but the one I react most to is a boat with an old Diesel engine.
    Thank you for this lovely post.
    miriam

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you very much. I am so glad you enjoyed the post and the history. I have many notes for a book, much like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Remember how Pa told stories that were interjected throughout her first books? I am the storyteller at school, much like Pa. I will incorporate them into the story. And, I love your boat story! It is wonderful when a sound from childhood can trigger happiness and memories. Best to you, Miriam.

  9. Opher says:

    Wow!! Those are memories to keep!

  10. reocochran says:

    I am happy these are your childhood memories, Jennie. The train has always called to me, it gives me a yearning to ride a train across the states to the West.
    Gosh, I guess I am the only one to think it is sad to talk about Indian raids in West Virginia. I guess this is getting “real” but I would have had nightmares.
    The log cabin with memories of good West Virginia cooking would have made me nostalgic.
    I have seen Autumn beauty of Hawk’s Nest overlook, the beauty in redbuds, the valleys or New River Gorge are thankfully ones that were passed on to my family. One set of cousins were from there. . . Those are lovely memories that are part of the Scottish side of my family who settled there.

    • Jennie says:

      My goodness, Robin. You have filled me up with more memories. Hawk’s Nest and the New River Gorge are magnificent in their beauty. I’m so glad you have a family connection there. I want to ride a train out west, too. Trains go by the most beautiful places, far from cars and the city. I feel lucky to have such train childhood memories. Honestly, if you heard my grandmother tell about the Indians, you wouldn’t have been sad or had nightmares. She was the best storyteller. I miss her dearly. I want to ask her so many more questions… Thank you so much. And, Happy Mother’s Day!

      • reocochran says:

        I’m so glad I was able to evoke warm memories of other areas in West Virginia. My Dad’s family was evenly distanced on the family tree to King Phillip (England) and King Bruce (Scotland). I recently found the Calder (Scottish Highlands) plaid and the crest in my Dad’s papers. It was like Shania Twain’s song, “It don’t impress me much. . .” (Poor grammar is hers. Ha!)

      • Jennie says:

        That is so interesting, Robin! Genealogy is the best. Hubby is the keeper of details and dates, thank goodness. Shaina Twain’s song… so funny!

      • reocochran says:

        She cracks me up! I think I pointed the line out about rocket scientist “don’t impress her much” either to my Dad. He laughed! 😀

      • Jennie says:

        So funny! 🙂

  11. I LOVED this story!!! To this day, the sound of a train will make me want to sleep. I have a train story as well but not quite as delicious as this one. You have so much history in this one. Your students can’t help but love this story. Another one for your book. 😉

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marlene. I have to say that it was one of my favorite posts to write, because I love the story and trains so much. Yes, another one for the book. I also want to write a Laura Ingalls Wilder type book. I tell true stories all the time in my classroom, just like Pa does in Laura’s books. I’ll do that in the book. The sound of a train is one of the best. It soothes me to sleep, too. I would love to hear your train story. Really. Best to you, Marlene. You are a dear friend.

  12. What an amazing family history and so rich in history. I can just imagine how you must have felt spending time with your grandmother in a beautiful 1770 log cabin, with dreams a plenty, I would imagine you dreamt of Indians and colonists and the very brave individuals who helped to settle this country. This an amazing story and should be published in a magazine and even a book – non-fiction! Thank so much for sharing!

    • Jennie says:

      It was wonderful to be there. The days were spent canoeing on the Greenbrier river. The evenings were spent with family, talking and visiting. And of course, the sound of the train whistle to go to sleep by and dream big dreams. Yes, a book. I have ideas. Thank you so much, Karen. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. 🙂

  13. It’s amazing how much history can be held within the four walls of this log house. I’m glad your memories are enjoyable ones Jennie, and how wonderful to revisit it. 🙂

  14. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, Thank you for sharing your history in a wonderful and lovely post.

  15. Jennie says:

    Well that was terrible grammar. They are always a pleasure.

  16. ren says:

    Beautiful family history you have!
    I loved running up the stairs with you, in search of the holes. How exciting and childlike it felt! What a wonderful and magical share.
    I grew up in the 1960’s, just 2 blocks from the local train station…..and oh what memories indeed.
    Thank you, thank you……

    • Jennie says:

      Aww.. that’s so nice, Ren. I’m so glad you enjoyed this, and that it brought you memories, too. Trains are the best. 🙂

      • ren says:

        There is a program in Michigan (maybe elsewhere) called “Rails To Trails”. Where they tear up the train tracks, they leave the ‘path’ as a trail for walking nature.
        My recent “Do you talk to animals” post has the featured pic of deer, on a “Rails to Trails” path. You can walk/bike/snowmobile it from town to town to town.

      • Jennie says:

        We have many rail trails here. 🙂

  17. Ellen says:

    This is a beautiful story that takes me back to my own Gram’s home and memories of the enchanting childhood stories. I love your last line…Stories are the keepers of words and memories. I am going to quote you often! Thank-YOU!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Ellen. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. Childhood memories are a good thing, particularly with grandmothers. I like that last line, too! Quote away. 🙂

  18. What lovely memories to have, Jennie. The story of the Indian raid is really scary. Imagine losing you children like that.

  19. Norah says:

    What a lovely memory to share in celebration of your grandmother, National Train Day and Mother’s Day, Jennie. I very much agree with you that “Stories are the keepers of words and memories.” Your children are fortunate that you are able to open their minds to experiences they may never have, through your stories. I agree with Robbie. How devasting for families to lose their children in the way your ancestors did. Sadly, it happens, even today, to too many families all over the world.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Norah. Keeping wonderful memories alive with stories is passing down history and family to future generations. I’m so glad my grandmother gave me her stories. And yes, even today children die in horrible ways. So very sad.

      • Norah says:

        The oral tradition of history – sometimes it’s the only way for a family’s stories to be told. Even today, when there are so many easy methods of recording it, not all families do so.

      • Jennie says:

        Exactly! I have often thought that some stories come across better verbally. When I tell my childhood stories at school, I have bat sounds, or movements like my husband freezing in fear… that sort of thing, which is hard to put into words. The same can be said for reading vs reading aloud.

      • Norah says:

        That’s true, Jennie. The oral telling or reading aloud can be much more animated and brings the stories to life.

  20. Aww, I remember this lovely post. I love the sound the sound of a train whistle, too.

  21. dgkaye says:

    Wow, what a fascinating history of your family home Jennie! 🙂

  22. what an interesting story-though my heart broke for the young son and the daughter lost for eight years! How blessed you are to know your family history.

  23. Nemorino says:

    I remember taking the train through West Virginia when I was a child, on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad on our way to visit our cousins in Washington.

    • Jennie says:

      Yes! The B&O was central to my home town of Huntington. I’m so glad you have memories. We both saw more of beautiful West Virginia than most people.

  24. That’s lovely, Jennie. Not only a fabulous, evocative, piece, but also the untold stories – the house, the children…the latter heartbreaking. Going back must’ve felt a little curious. Sounds – and smells – they certainly unleash memories.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you. It was a bit curious going back. I wondered if things would be different than my memory. They were not, except for things looking a little smaller.

  25. Sarah says:

    Family memories are so important And you ‘re keeping them alive by sharing! Your Nan was a very beautiful lady!

    • Jennie says:

      You are exactly right. Being able to tell those stories and keep them alive is wonderful. Nan is the one in heaven I would give anything to spend an hour with. Oh, the questions I have, all those you don’t think to ask when you’re very young.

  26. This story sounds a really magical one! Great post. Xx

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