Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem: Invictus Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from … Read More
Tag Archives: train
An ode to newlyweds . . .
The comment that follows is one that I posted concerning a photograph of newlyweds my daughter placed on her blog. The middle one of three daughters, she is the one that lives, loves, laughs, labors and lingers with her husband in Northern Virginia (my favorite daughter and my favorite son-in-law, but don’t tell the others). Click here to see her original post entitled, After the rain . . .
Before making the comment I e-mailed her for permission to use the photograph and to provide an advance reading of the comment. This is the comment as I posted it:
I have labored long and strong to produce this comment. Brilliant poetry does not come easy for semi-literate persons—it takes a lot of erasing and changing, and I’m submitting it for your consideration. Depending on your decision—to keep or delete—that is the question.
I will either post it verbatim or I will return it to the bowels of my brain and save it for some other use, but mark my words: It will be published, somewhere for some reason, without photos, of course. I may submit it for competition in the search for the world’s best poem.
A beautiful bubbly bride in a gorgeous gown, a handsome, albeit hairless, groom with the Garden of Eden beckoning in the background—one cannot resist speculating on whether at the end of the ceremony the couple will go hence, as did Adam and Eve, into the Garden—into the bushes, so to speak—and if such be the case that gown, already precariously balanced and threatening to succumb to the effects of gravity, will quickly be weighted down with beggar lice and cockle burrs, and that weight added to the pull of the earth’s center and the predictable possibility of the groom stepping on the gown’s train, accidentally of course, will produce predictable results, and from that spurious speculation springs a poetical predilection:
Hark! What is that I see?
Is that an apple on yon tree?
And does a serpent nearby lurk,
Upon its lips an evil smirk?
And will that tale of Bible lore,
As in the long gone days of yore,
Perhaps repeat itself once more?
Hark! Not from that apple on the tree,
Nor from the serpent hanging ‘round,
Did life began for thee and me,
‘Twas from that pear on the ground.
Anonymous? Not really. I’m guilty. I wrote it. All by myself.
The poem includes one homonym—betcha can’t find it!
Just a tiny hint: It’s one of a pair of words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings—note the word pair in this sentence and the word pear in the poem.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Captain, or engineer? Ship, or train?
Some believe and some say, and some even teach, that each of us is the captain of our ship, steering it and our lives through the gentle swells of calm seas and crashing waves of gale-lashed waters across oceans, some dotted with tropical islands and others filled with icebergs. The analogy of our journey through life as the master and captain of our ship is exemplified by this poem:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley, 1849–1903
Rather than the captain of a ship, I consider myself to be the engineer of my train. I have no helpers—no switchman, brakeman, signalman, fireman, conductor, oilman and no mechanic. I am the sole occupant on the train, controlling its freight and its movements through life with the various switches and gauges and handles available to me—and trust me, they are many and varied.
My travel through life is not limited to any existing railroad lines or tracks. My train is capable of laying its own roadbed. No matter where I choose to go, the track will always be there and I travel on it at my own speed, without regard to other traffic or intersections or crossroads.
Rumbling and swaying behind me on the track is a string of railroad cars, a string that lengthens as life goes on. In that line are railroad cars of every description and function—coal tenders, box cars, flat cars, hopper cars, passenger cars, cars of every description and every color, cars capable of holding and hauling anything and everything ever owned, including businesses and cars and houses and pets and airplanes and even islands.
Those railroad cars hold everything ever taught, everything ever learned, every job, every action ever taken, every thought and every deed done, whether good or evil. They carry every love ever found and every love ever lost, whether love for a person or a place, or for an animal or an idea, and they carry every friend ever made and lost, every enemy ever made and every antagonist ever faced.
I’m reasonably sure that you, dear reader, have already deduced that my train is my brain. The cars that I haul are the compartments of my brain, and in those compartments repose every thought I have ever had—memories of everything that I have learned and done are being hauled by the railroad cars. They are always there, although sometimes some of them are not always available to me—that seems to be a condition that increases in direct proportion to age.
The poem that follows pertains to those that do not understand or are unwilling to accept the responsibilities of an engineer, believing that their own train is run—engineered, so to speak—by someone other than themselves. Since all life ultimately ends, those folks may possibly—with emphasis on possibly—be in for a surprise! The poem’s origin is unknown, at least to me, but it could well be titled:
Plaint of a Non-engineer
I’m not allowed to run the train,
The whistle I can’t blow . . .
I’m not allowed to say how far
The railroad cars may go.
I’m not allowed to let off steam,
Nor even clang the bell . . .
But let the damn thing jump the track
And see who catches hell!
After awhile—eventually, ultimately, inevitably, inexorably and conclusively, we will hand over the controls of our train and its cars, loaded with the thoughts and deeds of our lives, to the Central Dispatcher and we will arrive at our final destination—no, make that our penultimate stop, the one next to the last.
Our freight—our baggage, so to speak—accumulated over a lifetime will be off-loaded, weighed, categorized, tabulated and compared to established factors in order to determine our ultimate destination. Some of us may protest the final decision, but bear in mind that the deciding factors will have been available for consideration, beginning with our first breath and continuing to our last.
A brief postscript:
I have been criticized, constructively of course, for the length of my postings. Evidently some viewers are so busy loading their train and maneuvering it around various obstacles, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, that they have little time for reading. This posting is relatively short, so I’ll close it with a metaphor, an apology for the length of my stories.
In my writings I am somewhat similar to the drunk—similar to, mind you, but not the drunk—that made a bet with another drunk in the bar, with the loser agreeing to take a drink from one of the bar’s cuspidors, commonly called a spittoon.. The loser raised the spittoon to his lips and emptied it, and the shocked winner told him he didn’t have to do that. The loser replied that he had no choice because it was all in one piece—as are my postings.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
19th Street South and mumps for Christmas . . .
Christmas morning dawned clear and bright in my town in 1939. I was seven years old that year, an adventurous second-grader that had wished for a cowboy outfit from the Sears catalog, one complete with a gun belt hosting rows of silver bullets and two guns in their holsters, tied down at mid-thigh to facilitate quick draws, sheepskin chaps, a colorful bandana, genuine imitation leather cowboy boots and a genuine high-crowned western sombrero that would shield me from the heat of the western sun and serve as a tool to beat dust from my clothing after an arduous trail drive of cattle to the rail head for shipment to the hordes of people in Chicago longing for western beef and also serve as a drinking vessel for my horse as shown in Hollywood movies.
Evidently Santa was unaware of my wish, or else he mistakenly gave my cowboy outfit to some other kid. Instead I got a drum and a toy train and mumps. Yep, mumps—I awoke Christmas morning with a headache and two serious lumps, one behind each ear. I don’t remember going to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment recommendations. In those days mumps, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox and a host of other childhood diseases were diagnosed by elder family members, relatives, friends and neighbors. Given the fact that I was at one time or another afflicted with most of those conditions and survived, that system apparently worked, at least in my case.
Each of my two gifts had problems. The drum arrived sans drum sticks. We searched frantically through the discarded Christmas wrappings and boxes but found no drum sticks, not even one.
I improvised with a pair of kitchen spoons, but the substitutes lacked any semblance of authenticity. When I wielded those spoons I neither felt like nor looked like Gene Krupa or Spike Jones—I felt like a dork and looked like a dork. Or perhaps I did look like Spike Jones—that’s Spike on the left, the one with the dorky hat.
Now on to my train and its deficits—it consisted of a really small locomotive with a coal tender, one passenger car, a little red caboose and a rather truncated circular track, one estimated to be no more than 18 inches in diameter. The locomotive was not powered by electricity, not the plug-in kind or the kind produced by dry-cell batteries—nope, not my train.
My train was a windup train—one held the locomotive in one hand and with one’s other hand wound up a steel spring that was inside with a key that projected from its side, similar to opening a can of sardines, then one placed it on the tracks and released it and clickety clack, clickety clack, until the spring wound down. Clickety clack is the sound that real trains made in those days as they traversed narrowly spaced rail joints,but my train never made that sound.
Nope, no clickety clacks for my train—the key was already wound tight and could not be budged. It arrived tight and remained in that condition as long as I had the train. I was reduced to pushing it along and vocally sounding the clickety clacks. Bummer!
Nowadays train rails run seamless for a mile or more—passengers still hear an occasional clickety but the clack is still a mile away. The rhythm is gone—rather than lulling one to sleep, the anticipation of the next clickety and clack denies fulfillment to passengers longing for and reaching for the arms of Morpheus—the unrhythmic sounds of modern rails actually prevent sleep. Note: Unrhythmic may not be a real word, but it looks good and sounds good so I’ll use it.
I spent the Christmas of 1939 incarcerated in my own home, playing a drum with two kitchen spoons and pushing a toy train around a small circular track, writhing in pain produced by an extreme case of double mumps—not really—I had no pain at all, just lumps, and they vanished a few days later.
In retrospect, I suppose I should feel blessed. While I was housebound with mumps—double mumps, so to speak—I heard a phrase several times, whispered between the adults in my family, something similar to this: I hope they don’t go down on him. It sounded so sinister that I also hoped that they would not go down on me—they didn’t. Fast forwarding to today’s medical terminology, I imagine that parents probably whisper to one another that they hope the mumps will not descend—sounds a bit better, right? Right? Right!
That’s my Christmas story and I’m sticking to it!
Cowboys, coffee shops and overnight in jail . . .
The year 1948 was a really busy one for me. I began the year in high school in the second semester of the tenth grade, but I left school to travel with my family—stepfather, mother and sister—from Mississippi to Midland, Texas. Although dropping out was not my decision, I must honestly say that I was not too upset.
As a preteen and teenager, I was a voracious reader of adventure novels—Zane Grey was and still is one of my favorite authors. I looked forward to being in the land of wild Indians and cowboys, horses and rustlers, crooked bankers and comely maidens, cattle drives to the rail head, stampedes and shoot-outs, fast-draw sheriffs and outlaws, snake-oil peddlers and bible-thumping circuit riders—I was not obsessed with all things western, but I was an avid—okay, rabid—fan.
I spent the rest of the year, at various times traveling, living and working in Midland, Texas and El Paso, Texas. In September of that year I traveled by auto with my older brother from El Paso to New York City, with a Sunday overnight stay in jail in Valley Park, Missouri, a small city a few miles west of St. Louis—it has probably grown a lot since then. On release from jail, we paid a brief visit in St. Louis to my stepfather’s sister and her husband in an effort to borrow gas money to get to New York.
They declined to help out, saying they couldn’t be certain that we were who we said we were—some really cautious people there. We only asked for $20 (gas was twenty-six cents a gallon in 1948) but they were adamant and refused. And here I will be just as cautious as they were by offering my apologies in advance if some are offended when I say that their refusal to help two people adrift on a sea of uncertainty may have been based on the husband being of a certain ethnic persuasion—if you catch my drift. Hey, give me a bit of credit—I’ve already apologized for the slut—oops, I meant slur.
The fact that my stepfather’s sister and her husband apologized to my stepfather and my mother at a later date does little to soften their refusal to finance the remainder of our trip to New York. Twenty dollars? The couple owned and operated an upscale coffee shop in one of the finest hotels in St. Louis. They could not possibly have believed that my brother and I were anyone other than who we professed to be—I told them things about my stepfather, both pro and con, that I could only know from having lived under his rule for some seven years.
Here’s a not-so-brief discussion of our futile chase of a wife, a bus and a train enroute to New York City. While my brother was at work at the El Paso Smelting Works (we lived in one of the company houses on-site), his wife took his wallet, his car and their two children to town, ostensibly on a shopping trip. Around noon on that day, a Friday, we received a call from a parking lot attendant in downtown El Paso. He said the woman that left it there told him to call her husband to pick up the car. My brother called a taxi and asked me to go with him to pick up the car. I unwisely agreed to go—big mistake.
We retrieved the car and immediately headed east. My brother had checked the Greyhound bus schedules and said that she had probably taken the bus and we could catch her in Dallas, more than 600 miles distant. He neglected to ask me if I wanted to go with him—he simply pointed his 1942 Mercury coupe, the one with the steering wheel lock hack-sawed off and the ignition system hooked up to the fog lights—yep, it was hot wired—turn on the fog lights and the engine could be started. We left El Paso and headed for Dallas with my brother driving—I was riding shotgun.
The Greyhound had a fair start on us, but we arrived in Dallas before it did. His wife and children were not on it. My brother then checked the train schedules out of El Paso and decided that she must have taken the train to New York. He said that we could beat the train to St. Louis, so we headed for St. Louis, another 6oo miles away.
A funny thing happened to us on that leg of our journey. We were only 27 miles from St. Louis, and had our forward motion not been impeded, we would have beaten the train from El Paso. However, around noon on that Sunday in Valley Park, Missouri, a small town (then) just 27 miles west of St. Louis, we passed a drive-in restaurant where two uniformed city police officers were having lunch in their police cruiser, with an attractive young short-skirted female carhop leaning into the driver’s window. We were in slow-moving city traffic as we passed, so we had time to admire the rear view of the carhop, and that was probably a fatal mistake. The cops dismissed her and scattered gravel as they dug out in hot pursuit of us, siren blaring, red lights flashing and a bullhorn roaring Pull over! Just as in the old black-and-white Boston Blackie, Charlie Chan and James Cagney movies.
Following the stop and a few questions and answers, my brother and I were arrested, patted down and placed in the city jail. We were suspected of auto theft, and the police posed the probability that we were guilty and possibly had kidnapped and murdered the owner of the car—yes, they used those words, and repeatedly asked us what we did with the gun and where had we hidden the body of the person we murdered after stealing the car.
I hasten to add that the only thing we were guilty of was being stupid enough to first race a Greyhound bus from El Paso to Dallas, and then race a cross-country passenger train from El Paso to St. Louis, all the while driving a hot-wired car with the steering wheel lock hack-sawed off, three different sets of license plates in the trunk, no personal identification and no luggage. Add to that the fact that neither my brother nor I had a scrap of identification on us, and I had a handful of .22 caliber long-rifle cartridges in a pocket of my jeans. We were arrested on Sunday, and after our overnight jailing we were released just before noon on Monday. We were told that we could only be held 24 hours without being formally charged with a crime and booked. We were released after 23 hours in jail, with no apology offered, just an emphatic, Get out of town and don’t come back—just as in those old-time western movies.
We had valid explanations for the hot-wiring, multiple sets of license plates, no identification, no luggage and a pocketful of rifle cartridges, but the officers obviously did not believe us, and told us that none of our story could be checked on Sunday because the offices that could verify our story were closed and inquires could not be made until Monday. We asked them to call our mother in El Paso and she could verify our story. We also asked them to call the parking lot attendant, but they had no interest in calling either. No computers could be checked, of course, because computers had not yet been invented—well, invented perhaps, but none were in use at the time.
The police station boasted two cells in a metal cage, constructed with flat metal strips rather than bars, located in a back room. Apparently the two sections were bolted together after being placed in the room. Each section was approximately 6 x 10 feet, and each had a steel bunk bolted to the middle partition—just the flat knee-high steel platform—no mattress, no pillow, nothing in the way of bedding.
The only other furnishing was a ceramic toilet with no seat and no lid, filled nearly to the brim with things that defied descripti0n. My brother’s cell was similarly equipped and similarly filled to the point of overflowing. I had a faucet on my side, and early in our stay my brother asked our captors for a drink of water. One of those worthies retrieved a pint milk bottle from a pile of rubbish in a corner, passed it to me and told me to get my brother a drink. The bottle was dirty, so I filled it partially and then shook it in an effort to get it clean, then poured the contents into the toilet, and that was a huge mistake. It stirred up the contents of the toilet and unleashed odors that filled the air and our nostrils for the rest of our stay. I told my brother that I couldn’t get the bottle clean and he wisely decided that he wasn’t really thirsty after all.
The cells were separated by a metal partition—I was placed on one side of the partition and my brother was secured on the other side. We could talk but could not see each other. The room had no lighting—daytime lighting was furnished by one double-sash window on my side, with the lower sash raised and no screen—the back side of my cell was against the wall with the window. Flies, mosquitoes, sounds and odors entered with ease—sounds and odors seemed to come and go, but the flies and mosquitoes only came and never left. A single overhead naked light bulb mounted near the room’s ceiling far above the top of our cells served for night lighting—it was never turned off while we were incarcerated.
My brother and I were smokers—I had the matches and he had the cigarettes, but we were able to improvise. There were several small holes drilled through the partition, just large enough to pass a cigarette through, so he would pass me a cigarette and after lighting it, I would pass the lighted match through the hole so he could light his cigarette—we thus confirmed the adage that necessity is the mother of invention.
Late in the afternoon nearing dusk, I glanced out and saw a young boy standing outside the window and staring at me—he was probably twelve or so—I asked him if he would run an errand for me, and if he would I would reward him for it. He agreed, so I gave him fifty cents and asked him to bring back two packs of Camel cigarettes. Don’t laugh—in those days with cigarettes at eighteen cents a pack, a half-dollar would buy two packs with fourteen cents left over. With an apology in advance for using the word bastard, the little bastard took my fifty cents and never came back—hey, I said I apologized!
The cops came to us at about dark-thirty and asked what we wanted for supper, saying that sandwiches were available at a nearby restaurant. My brother and I asked for milk and two cheeseburgers each, and I must admit that the burgers were first-rate. As an aside, burger buns and burgers came in one size in those days—small—nothing even approaching the huge ones we enjoy today. We learned later that the food was not furnished by the city—our suppers were paid for with the few dollars they took when they searched us before placing us in our cells. If there was any change left over they kept it, because no money was returned to us.
There’s lots more to tell about our trip, but I’ll save it for another posting—this one has rambled on long enough. I tried to make it brief, but posting is closely akin to eating peanuts, running downhill and having sex—once started it’s hard to stop. Stay tuned for additional information regarding our jail stay, including a discussion involving a length of rubber hose.
That’s my story—partially—and I’m sticking to it!
I’ll get back to you later with more details.
Ann Landers—The station . . .
This posting is a letter to Ann Landers and her response to the letter writer. Robert J. Hastings’ The Station may be found on the internet with some variations, but the story and its message are always the same. The date it was published in Newsday is unknown, but I’ve had my typewritten copy (remember typewriters?) for twenty years or more—it’s pretty faded and smudged now, but its pertinence and its heartfelt pathos are still there, and it still tugs at my heartstrings when I read it. I’m posting it here for those that may have missed the publication at the time, and for the multitudes that have come along since it was published. There is a lesson to be learned here, if one will only take the time time to read it and digest its message—and then, perhaps, to apply the message to one’s own life.
The Newsday header for Ann Landers reply was:
Life must be lived one day at a time
Dear Ann Landers,
In July of 1985, my wife was diagnosed as having terminal cancer. Shortly afterward, your column on The Station by R. J. Hastings appeared in Newsday. For years, we had talked of some day going to Paris, a city I fell in love with as a GI. The day after I read the poem, I realized that it was time to pull into the station.
As soon as the doctor ok’d the trip, we went to Paris and had the most beautiful vacation of our 43 years. My lovely wife passed away a year and a half after the diagnosis.
I have since taken the liberty of passing copies of that column to friends. One purchased his some day car. Another went on a long-delayed trip. But the station also can mean visiting a sick friend, and that some day should be now. There is so much hurt in looking back and remembering those things we intended to do and didn’t.
Thank you, Ann Landers, for Paris.
Irv Gaiptman, Plainview, NY.
You were dear to let me know what The Station meant to your life. Here it is for all the others who haven’t as yet learned that lesson:
Tucked away in our subconscious is an idyllic vision. We see ourselves on a long trip that spans the continent. We are traveling by train. Out the windows we bring in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls.
But uppermost in our minds is the final destination. On a certain day at a certain hour we will pull into the station. Bands will be playing and flags waving. Once we get there so many wonderful dreams will come true and the pieces of our lives will fit together like a complete jigsaw puzzle. How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering—waiting, waiting, waiting for the station.
When we reach the station, that will be it, we cry. When I’m 18. When I buy a new 450SL Mercedes Benz. When I put the last kid through college. When I have paid off the mortgage. When I get a promotion. When I reach the age of retirement, I shall live happily ever after.
Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip. The station is only a dream. It constantly outdistances us.
Relish the moment is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad. It is the regrets over yesterday and the fear of tomorrow. Regret and fear are twin thieves who rob us of today.
So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less. Life must be lived as we go along. The station will come soon enough.
By Robert J. Hastings
Japanese trains are always on time—regardless . . .
A year or so ago, I received an e-mail from the consort of my youngest daughter, the Princess of Wylie, Texas. Her consort is a worthy fellow, an accomplished barrister who serves the public from an office in Plano, Texas. We conferred upon him the title of His Royal Highness, the Prince Consort, a term that we kings use when a royal personage marries a person whose rank is too low for them to be granted full royal status. (NOTE: The children of the Princess of Wylie and her Prince Consort are not in the line of succession to the throne).
The Prince Consort’s e-mail consisted of the mandatory greetings, and included a movie clip showing passengers being packed into train cars in China, in much the same manner as sardines being packed into a can, a much over-used but highly appropriate and picturesque description.
I responded to the e-mail as follows:
Thanks for the movie clip—it sure stirred up a host of memories, and led me to a web site which shows many of the places which I, among many exclusively chosen others, was privileged to tour over 7 months in Japan and 15 months in Korea (April 1950 – February 1952). Bear in mind that the people in these pics are commissioned officers—I was part of the Air Force’s UEF (Unwashed Enlisted Force), and our accommodations weren’t nearly as luxurious as theirs.
That scene gives new meaning to the word packed. A few years ago (okay, more than a few years—59 years ago, give or take a few months) I took a few train rides in Japan. Their packing system was about the same as China’s, and the trains left on time—no exceptions—if a passenger happened to be halfway in and halfway out, both halves started moving, so that person had to make a decision—either give up the fight or travel that way. As best as I can remember, most people chose to give up the fight and remain on the platform.
The Japanese had special express trains that had specific destinations, and those trains flashed by every stop on their way to that destination. Nothing would sway the operator—I unwittingly boarded one such train in Fukuoka, a metropolitan city on the southern island of Kyushu, and passed my duty station at Itasuke Air Base about five miles from the city at warp speed—as George Jones says in song, the train was going so fast that the telephone poles “looked like a picket fence.”
I was in the front of the first car, separated from the motorman by plate glass mounted in a securely locked door. I begged, cursed, shook my fist at the motorman and threatened to bring down the full weight and fury of the United States Air Force on him. I was in my summer khaki uniform, so I pointed to my Private First Class stripes (one on each sleeve) and my US collar brass.
Remarkably unimpressed, he smiled and bowed deeply, gave me a friendly wave then ignored me. I ended up so far out in the country that the townspeople where I finally de-trained didn’t recognize my uniform. I actually flapped my wings in an attempt to show them that I was a proud member of the United States Air Force.
And would you believe it? The train finally stopped in a small city north of the city of Fukuoka—too far for me to walk back, and I waited for an interminable time for a returning train.
The name of that town was USA.
How’s that for coincidence?
The rumor still persists that an existing city was renamed USA so the townspeople could export items stamped Made in USA to other countries, principally to the United States. It’s nothing more than a rumor—the town was named USA long before World War II.
From that time on, I looked very carefully for its destination before I leaped aboard a train in Japan.