Monday, January 31, 2011
Photo: Southern Pacific publicity photo of a Daylight locomotive
There was a program on channel 9 the other night about the Daylight, the Southern Pacific passenger train that ran between Los Angeles and San Francisco between 1937 and 1971, when Amtrak took over passenger service. Trains still run, but not the Daylight.
The trains were striking in appearance, red and orange along the sides and black on top and bottom, with matching specially built steam engines, so the train was one matching design from beginning to end.
I grew up in Watsonville, California, which was on the main line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Everywhere in the Pajaro Valley you could hear the train whistles blow as trains came into the station. My father's sister Thelma and her husband Ray had a farm over on the Monterey County side of the Pajaro River and the trains ran along the edge of their fields. I remember how thrilling it was to see those red and orange trains go by, the engines puffing clouds of smoke. It was the beginning of train love for me.
This documentary came on, and I was completely caught up in memories of passenger trains. The show featured many clips of the Daylight chugging through the California landscape. In the background were the hills and valleys and seashore of California. These sights were so familiar to me, and brought up so many memories of my misspent youth and the beautiful places where I misspent it. The low round hills of the Pajaro Valley were the background of my childhood, surrounding me every day like the arms of God. Seeing them once again in the background of the train movies connected me to something inside that is deeper than words.
I spoke about that connection to my husband, Rick, and by email to his friend, Hutch. Rick and Hutch were both Army brats who lived all over the world growing up. They met in Germany when they were in high school, and they played and sang folk music together with a third member, Terry MacNeil, as The Balladiers. Yes, spelled with an “i.” Talking to Rick and Hutch about trains set off their memories.
Hutch wrote: “Sometimes, as a family, we would have a compartment, and other times, berths. Either way as a kid I always managed to get the upper. Can you imagine the intimacy of changing into pajamas, passing others in the narrow passageway to and from the bathroom? At least once a trip the train would lurch and you'd fall through the little blue curtain onto who ever's bunk you'd be passing.”
Rick wrote: “We must be the last generation to carry such fondness of memory for the era of passenger trains. I'm glad you took the boys back* so they can carry some memory of that time. I developed my love of the 'I'm tireds'** not from watching them pass through but from riding them.
“I never saw a more beautifully evolved choo-choo than the European zigzag trains with their passenger cars all fitted out like lovely wooden jewelry boxes with thousands of different doors and drawers.
“The diesel electrics were a real innovation but nothing said 'train' like the big, noisy, hissing steam locomotives.”
*In 1993, I took our sons on a train trip. We went from Seattle to Chicago on the Empire Builder, then from Chicago to Akron on another train. We visited with Rick's relatives in Ohio, then caught the train back to Chicago and from there caught the train to Los Angeles, stopping to visit my brother and sister-in-law in Raton, New Mexico, along the way. From LA we took what is now called the Starlight up the coast to Seattle. It was a grand trip that took about three weeks and we still talk about it.
**When Rick was a little boy in Ohio, his grandfather would put him to bed at night and tell him about the steam engines chugging along saying, “I'm tired, I'm tired, I'm tired...” Rick said it didn't take long for him to drop off, and ever since he has thought of steam engines as the “I'm tireds.”
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Photo: the cast of Blackadder Goes Forth getting ready to go over the top
Today was a day for sorting through paper, throwing stuff away until my brain got too numb to go on, trying to get ready to do income taxes.
I had “Blackadder Goes Forth” running on Netflix on my computer, as company while I worked. This series is set in the trenches of World War I, and I've seen parts of it before. It first ran on the BBC in the United Kingdom in the autumn of 1989, and unlike the three previous Blackadder series it had an antiwar stance. In the last episode, all the fooling around and smart ass remarks are done and the characters go over the top into No Man's Land. And that's how the show and the series ended.
Blackadder's last line, after Baldrick says he has a cunning plan to escape, is: "Well, I am afraid it will have to wait. Whatever it was, I am sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman around here? Good luck, everyone."
World War I, or The Great War, as it was then, the "war to end all wars," truly was devastating to Britain, and the Blackadder series honored that at the end. I was seeing it twenty-one years after it first aired. This ending is famous, at least among some people, but I had never seen it before and it touched me deeply - and left me feeling deeply sad.
And I still feel that way.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Photo by Laurie Shepherd Heath, photographer extraordinaire
Every time Jive the dog comes in these days he's sopping wet. He smells great, too. Well, he puts off a great smell.
There is a pile of old towels by the door, and a folding chair for me to sit in, and we have a few minutes of communion. I throw a towel over him from head to tail, and then commence rubbing him down and drying him off, and telling him what a good boy he is. This praise is most important when I get to his feet.
There may be dogs who like to have their feet messed with, but Jive is not one of those dogs. It is the foot drying that makes him start to walk away. He especially dislikes it when I run the towel between his toes, and try to get the mud loose from his claws. So I've learned to say, "Good boy, good boy," to him while I perform this delicate maneuver. That seems to calm him and get us through the tedious business.
Then when I'm done and he's only slightly damp and his paws don't leave little mud prints on the floor I sit back, and he stands there looking at me expectantly. Usually I'll throw another towel over his head and rub down his head and back again. We both enjoy that part.
Finally I say, "That's it," and we are done. He looks at me to make sure I really mean it, and walks off to whatever corner of the couch he has in mind.
When my husband dries Jive, he usually reminisces fondly about Sadie, our Doberman mix, who passed on a few years ago. When he was drying Sadie off, he would say, "Footy," and she would obligingly raise a paw for him to dry. She didn't like it, but she understood the necessity. Dobermans have reasoning powers.
Jive is a Lab mix, and is not burdened with reasoning powers.
While animals have always been a part of our family, we are not of the persuasion that animals are our babies or children. We had babies and children; animals are animals, with definite animal personalities and natures, and we love and respect them as such. Rick says now that after Jive goes, he would like to have no more dogs, or cats, or rabbits, or rats, or mice, or guinea pigs, or gold fish, all of which have lived with us over the years.
I understand his reasoning: you get so attached to them (except for some of those awful killer rabbits), and then they die. That's the main reason. Rick is tired of having his heart broken. Also there is maintenance and money. We're at an age and stage of life when we need to take care of ourselves, and animal companions take time and care. You have to train a dog, you have to clean the cat's litter box, and you have to pay for food and vet bills. Dogs chew things up, and dig up the yard, and run off and roll in disgusting rotten things and come home grinning. Cats leave disgusting things in the middle of your bed. Worst of all, you will probably have to make the decision to have an animal put down at the end of its life.
Sometimes as I'm toweling Jive down I'm thinking, he may be the last dog. It makes me a little sad, and it even makes getting the mud off his feet a sweet chore. It's a sad part of growing older, realizing that you are doing things for the last time, and that parts of your life are gone forever.
Then I think, I'll bet if I brought home a cat or a dog, Rick would fall in love with it and they'd hang out together. Maybe if as I presented it I said, "Good husband, good husband?" That might calm him down.
Don't tell him I'm thinking this, though. I want it to be a surprise.