Deflections: Early Childhood

Early Childhood Memories
1951 Train on the Track
The first memory of my life occurred when I had just turned three. I can put an almost exact date on the event because I my brother was an infant and my memory is clear enough that I we still lived in the Rio Grand Valley. We moved to the Fort Bliss area of El Paso when my brother was still an infant and I was not yet four. We are almost exactly three years apart in age. So, I had just turned three.

We were in an old car, my dad driving, my mom in the front seat holding Alex, my infant brother just out of the hospital. We were going over railroad tracks that seemed enormous. My dad slowed the old car, put it in first and let out the clutch slowly. The car lurch over the huge track, the first rail causing the car to lurch upward and then back down as the wheels went over the first rail and then came back down. My dad, a mechanic who knew everything there was to know about cars, edged the car forward slowly to the next rail. The clutches were crude in those days, but my dad was the master. He let the clutch out slowly and gave the car gas. And the unthinkable happened with my dad at the helm. The car stalled and the front wheels settled down between the rails of the track. No worries, my dad was in charge.

My dad turned the ignition and the car turned over and then stalled again. Again he turned the ignition and the mighty motor roared to life only to stall again. I stood behind the seat watching my dad in the darkness as he turned off the lights to save the battery. I understood these things because my dad told me about such things; I was important. Soon the smell of gasoline filled the car, I knew the smell perhaps from an earlier lesson. “The car is flooded,” I announced.

“We will just wait awhile, and then it will start,” Dad announced. And then we heard it over the still night air through the open windows. It was very faint, but unmistakable, the sound of a train howling in the distance through the cool spring air. There was absolute silence in the car. No one was breathing, no one uttered a word or even made noise breathing. But, my dad was in charge and sat there calmly hoping the gasoline in the carburetor would evaporate. I am sure I did not know what that meant. But it was something that had to happen and we waited quietly for it to happen. But, it didn’t happen. The car starter whirled, the motor hardly coughed anymore, but simply went around. Mom was looking at Dad intently now as we heard the train whistle not as distant as before. Then we saw it, far in the distance, a faint glow of the light in the direction of the train whistle.

My dad told us to get out. All of us. His voice was tense and urgent. My mom holding my brother walked out in front of the car. I followed holding onto her skirt. My dad went to the back of the car. It began slowly, the car rocking back and forth, back and forth, as my dad pushed the car from behind. Pushing up on the front rail as far as he could then letting the car roll back until the car rolled up on the back rail, and then back down as my dad put all his strength into making the car go over the front rail. Again and again he tried, rocking the car, trying to get up enough speed to go over the rail. I told my mom she needed to help, she said nothing.

And then the whistle and a light as big as the sun filling the night air with a terrifying sound. We could feel the ground starting to tremble as the train roared through the night air at us. It was not just a sound. Even at three I recognized it for the terror it was. I broke free of my mom and rushed to the back of the car, if she wouldn’t help, I would. My dad needed MY HELP. In a fraction of a second I was beside my dad, my hands on the bumper, willing to give every ounce of my strength to save us.

To my surprise my dad grabbed my arm and picked me up like a small puppy half throwing me to mom. He was yelling, he was mad at her for letting me coming to help him, telling mom to hold on to me, to not let it happen again. She did, I half-struggled, but mostly resigned myself to my fate, to be a spectator to the pending disaster.

The sound of the grou
nd shaking, the roar of the diesel, the piercing of the whistle through our beings filled us and the air around us. And the light, it was like the sun roaring down on top of us. Mom was screaming, I was yelling, my brother was crying. The world was ending as the sound and fury of the sun descended upon us.

There was no time to rock the car, my dad gave out a mighty moan, all the sounds blended together and it became daylight under the roaring sun. And my dad was on his knees behind the car his back his inches from the train roaring behind him. He was too tired and exhausted to push the car another foot to a safer distance. We stood there watching, the ground rumbling beneath our feet, the world full of clanking and rumblings the air from the train rushing past us.
rroe rroe
61-65, M
May 15, 2012