The Trains of Winnipeg 1

(a distant memory)

Early 1950s. Preschool age, likely 3. Union Station. Built by the architects who built Grand Central Station. The wonderful glorious massive dome so high. The panels of colorful alluring images of trains and places. The great clock and humongous vestibule. The black and white men wearing red caps everywhere. The shouting, the trunks, carts, and confusion.

And then the descent down a long ramp into the bowels ‘where the trains would come’. An underground made up of many doors on both sides through which one could see the bottoms of lighted steep staircases going up to…? And the large crowd of unfamiliar faces, a mob in fact, anxiously anticipating what?

And then a strange loud noise which became the loudest noise in the world. Louder than thunder, visibly shaking this tense scene. Pounding, chugging, thundering above, overhead! Was the roof going to collapse? The loudest whistle and bells imaginable. A steam locomotive–a truly great technological monster to be reckoned with–had arrived. And then doors opened somewhere and the crowd pushed toward them and we were suddenly going up, up, toward the streamed daylight, the noise of unseen yelling human voices, clanging and clanking, and the sound of the mighty engines exhaling, gasping steam.

The other, later place of arrival–Kawa, Ontario–an opening literally slashed in deep woods on the Canadian Shield where my smiling hard-drinking uncle was ‘station-master’, a place only accessible by railway. The trains never stopped at Kawa and ours had slowed to a crawl. The conductor handed me to my mother who had jumped off first and walked fast with my uncle beside the moving car. It would be the same on the way back home, in reverse.

And while we were there–the solitude except for fast trains passing, the mosquitoes, the pungent forest smells, the bars on the window station to keep out bears, the lanterns at night, a Quebec heater, the old flat wind-up portable phonograph wobbly playing 78s, the liquor bottle, cribbage board, and playing cards perpetually on the table. I (or of my uncle’s kids) nearly falling into the well–a wooden cover over a patch of ground had been left ‘off’.

There is much in our early lives which is and seems irrational, even terrifying and bizarre–a perfect introduction to more of the same to follow, intermittently, in the rest of our lives. Much that is filed away as a forgotten long ago part of the life flow. And maybe sixty years later resurrected somewhere in what begins as a private, solitary moment–a man at a laptop on an early prairie morning in late August, in another century–all the adults mentioned in this piece long deceased, and only the moment itself, briefly, subjectively, remembered and recorded by ‘a lone survivor’.

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