At the railroad track across Town Hall Rd., we come to a rolling stop. The kind that in Driver’s Ed you are told you can still be arrested for. Trains are neither common, nor uncommon here. A halfway kind of stop feels appropriate.
Dad tells a story. Dad tells many stories, but this story he tells when we pause at the train tracks. I mostly recognize them as the subject of a photography assignment in a class I took my senior year of high school. It was one of the only classes I ever took based on the interest of trying something new.
The tracks stretch long to both sides. In August, they are a hallway closeted in by long, browning grasses, sharp dryness, feathered seeds and rounded puddles of Queen Anne’s Lace.
“Got hit by a train here,” Dad begins. This story is a short one because the details have to be imagined. The humid coolness of a summer night. The barely lit sky by endless star pinpoints. Silence. Slowness. “He was taking the milk to town, on the wagon. Probably a lot of rattling. Don’t know though?”
“Don’t know what?” I know I need to ask.
“Well, how he didn’t see it coming. The train. Had to be pretty slow.”
Slow train. Slower wagon. Slow to act?
“People said he stopped on purpose. Killed himself.” Dad finishes as the car bounces under us over the rails. My small engine pulls, puttering its own kind of chug, chug up the hill.
Suicide appears the logical, illogical choice. After all, how could you not get out of the way a slow train?
“What do you want for your birthday?” Dad asks.
I shrug and turn to go upstairs. It is the eternal question for August. I always wish I had a better answer. A better answer implies knowing what I actually want. I think I must always have been rather bad at identifying what I wanted. I am in the midst of a redecorating/reorganizing odyssey and all the objects seem to be paragraphs I am editing in this 40 year old story of self. Not knowing what I want stacks itself in jewelry boxes, Mickey Mouse watches, rediscovered dolls and even blankets. Items I allowed a finger or comment to caress in passing then appeared in wrapping paper. I was always only marginally successful at hiding my indifference. Best not to ask for anything, became my conclusion, because I seemed to never want anything.
After I successfully transitioned bedrooms, I thought I was done with the reorganization. Then, one day Dad followed me up the stairs.
“What about that?” He points to the bedroom I spent high school in. It is my third bedroom in this house. I had a childhood bedroom that once was my great aunts’ walk in closet. I shared the “master” bedroom with my two cousins splattered in pink and lace after my mom died. Then, I moved into this one, the one that was my grandfather’s, then my uncle’s with paintings I adored floating on the ceiling. I don’t remember when someone painted over them, but I am still sad each time I look up at the clear whiteness. When it was my uncle’s, I waited at the bottom staring at my “going to be” aunt’s shoes. The last owner before me was my dad. Outside his “office” on the landing I traced a split barn wood door cloaked in smoke and tasting of sugared coffee.
“It looks like a shrine,” his words snap me back.
I nod. “I guess.”
“Look at the dust. And that pile.”
“The teaching stuff. The posters are fine. I know where I can put them.”
“And the rest? You made me move to fix the tiny room. How about you?”
Move. Yes. Move. My clothes closet somehow offers extra corners. I donate books who have not had the friends of little eyes in far too long. The office at my new job takes some overflow of both why personally and professionally, I am excited for the opportunity. And Guatemala? There were many issues to address of the adolescent photo and trinket kind, but Guatemala? I tug it out from under the desk. Could it actually fit in one box? As I remove the designated garbage, I see it will fit in one box. Do I want it to? And the weavings? Would the wrinkles come out? Or, would they never be fit for display. I don’t want to know, and so, I fold them into my sweaters. Each piece of paper or beaded bracelet and chain, I know who gave them to me. Where I can’t, my dog weaves in and out of piles: teaching, learning, weaving, selling. What does he smell? His old home? I don’t consider myself to have too much stuff. I moved once a year in college and then I spent what I consider to be the time of life when most accumulate the most stuff, lugging transitional items from one Guatemalan village to the next.
“I can’t believe it.”
“The room. I climb up the stairs just to look at it.”
His was a challenge to choose, but in fact, after 4 years at 40 years, I had chosen. All of a sudden you’re standing in a spot. You’re surprised, not at where you arrived, but that you’re standing still. And that you’re happy about it.
The gravel truck rumble down the road underneath branches is a kind of whistle. It clips the lowest twigs and leaves. Snap. The reins snapped. Move. It’s here, the slow train.
For more wonderful videos related to teacher training or literacy program development in rural Guatemala, please visit www.child-aid.org. I have no v...