The Story of Us

Romancing the Rail

My earliest childhood memory is of a train, but it’s a frightening one. My family was relocating back to New Orleans from Chicago. I’d like to say we were aboard the Illinois Central’s City of New Orleans; it would make the frightening image more cozily romantic at least. But the memory is of a train at night, making our passage good on the IC’s Panama Limited. Regardless, the image I can still recall is a two and a half year-old boy alone and staring at the open space between two cars. The colors of the image are dark green and black, and I am transfixed by a rubbery corrugation stretched over the open space between the two cars being jostled about by the train’s motion. I suppose it was my two and a half year-old brain telling me that I could easily slip through that open space and be lost forever, whatever that rubbery thing was supposed to do to protect me. As a teenager at war with my father, I would recall that image and wonder whether my being left alone on that train was an early example of parental neglect. As an adult, I wonder if any part of that childhood memory was accurate. In particular, that rubbery thing.