Train Whistles

I’m awake hours earlier than normal. Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you…

As I returned to bed around 4:30 after answering nature’s call for the second time tonight, I thought I might actually get back to sleep. Hubby had finally stopped snoring and I was hoping the kids songs that had been running through my head would finally hit ‘Pause’. I closed my eyes…and then, I heard it. The train whistle blew and I was suddenly back in my childhood home as a teenager. No, the whistle didn’t magically transport me back in time, it was just a very strong memory…

A memory where I was having another restless night and nearly falling asleep when the train whistle blew – at 4:30 in the morning. I remember the frustration, knowing I had to get up for school in a couple of hours, and that whistle just kept blowing as it approached each intersection on its way south to reach the main east-west line. I had many restless nights as a teen with the usual teenage worries: Would I ever finish that assignment as the due date looms? Why weren’t my grades better? Would certain boys ever talk to me? Why was I so tongue-tied around them? Why wasn’t I more popular? Why did I stay up so late reading that book?

Tonight, once nature woke me the first time, I ran through my day, beginning with work and the autistic girl who loves music so much that we listened to her favourite songs, over and over and over – and they were still playing in a continuous loop in my head. I thought about the sink full of dishes and the specific papers I would need to find in preparation for our meeting with the estate planner. I remembered the aging bananas on the counter that need to be made into banana bread in the morning. I thought about what to serve my fellow writers (besides banana bread) when they came over on Sunday for our monthly meeting – and in between these thoughts I was nudging Hubby so he’d stop snoring, hoping that I might get to sleep if I had a little peace and quiet.


As the train whistle faded off into the distance, I wondered whether my daughter, who now lives in my childhood home, would hear the train as it moved past her. I realized, then, that I have lived near train tracks all my life. The house where I spent the first 19 years of my life was nestled between two sets of tracks. There was a line that ran behind our house and another set of tracks, including a shunting yard, four blocks east of our street. Every spring, a railroad official would come to our elementary school to warn us of the dangers of playing around train tracks, so I learned early to respect the tracks, to watch and listen for trains. The best times were when the Prairie Dog Central would pass by our house. I loved seeing that old train. My parents once arranged for us to take a Christmas excursion on it up to Grosse Isle, where Santa hopped on board and gave us candy for the trip back to the city. Whenever we’d hear that old train whistle, so different from the modern ones, we’d run out to the back fence and wave at the engineer as he drove past. See him waving back?


Although the line that used to run behind my old house is now gone, the other set of tracks is still there, taking up the load. The line that runs a few blocks from where I live now is the same line that runs through my daughter’s neighbourhood. When we first moved across the river and 30 minutes north of my childhood home, the friends who remained thought we lived so far away from them. Hearing that train whistle tonight made me realize, we haven’t moved all that far away. My childhood home and my married home, where we’ve lived for the past 31 years, are only 30 minutes apart and still in the same city.

I guess I am just an old homebody who is most comfortable in familiar surroundings. I can’t imagine picking up roots, like one of my brothers, and moving half a continent away from family and friends. Although my other brother moved out of the city, he’s less than an hour’s drive away and we still get to visit fairly often. Ironically enough, there is a rail line not far from them, too! I wonder if he hears the train whistle early in the morning and remembers our childhood home, like me?

Do you have a strong childhood memory that rises up at the sound of something familiar?

(PS: I’ve linked the train pictures to the sites where I found them, if you’d like to learn more about them.)