Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Music and Trains

This heat has driven the neighborhood whippoorwill to parts unknown. It's been awfully quiet this August, with temperatures over 100 degrees most days. Whippoorwills sing mostly in the early dawn hours. Because they are ground birds and highly camouflaged, you rarely see them. I have never seen my own personal whippoorwill, and I haven't heard him in a month, whereas in June and July he was a regular morning presence. The human voice cannot even begin to imitate his variations in pitch.

Here's a couple more songs about peace. Check these lyrics from Elvis' version of the old gospel hymn "Peace in the V

Well the bear will be gentle
And the wolf will be tame
And the lion shall lay down, down by the lamb, oh yes
And the beasts from the wild
Shall be led by a child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature that I am, oh yes

Do you reckon Elvis saw Edward Hicks' artwork?

And how about Yusuf Islam's (aka Cat Stevens) "Peace Train":

Now I've been happy lately,
thinking about t
he good things to come
And I believe it could be,
something good has begun.
I like Cat's song because it combines two interests: peace and trains.

Trains run in my family (hahaha). Both my grandfathers had jobs associated with trains, but they could not have been more different men. My mother's father worked in the Southern Railway yards near the Fan District in Richmond, Virginia, where I was born. I cherish memories of him in his black and white pinstriped overalls and railroad cap. My paternal grandfather was a lawyer for the L&N Railroad and had an office in Union Station next to the Alabama River in downtown Montgomery. James William Patton, although from a south Georgia farm family, did well in the law, and old photos confirm my memories of him as a dandy dress er. He and his diminutive wife, Trudy, reared a family of five children, my father Sam being the middle child, in a big house on McDonough Street, across from the Episcopal Church of the Ascension. I was told that my grandmother actually knew the Fitzgeralds (Scottie and Zelda).

On the other side of the family, GrandyPa, as we called my mother's father (his actual name was Elwood Raeford Hines), was a quiet man who grew figs and grapes in a tiny urban backyard on Floyd Avenue. In his spare time he tended that small garden and did carpentry work with ancient-looking hand tools in a dank basement where my grandmother's wringer washer took up the other half of the space. GrandyPa was a widower with several other children when he married "Dandy" (as the eldest grandchild, my nickname for her stuck with her remaining grandchildren). Clarissa Jane Lewis reared his children and bore him four more, three girls and a boy. My mother Margaret was the eldest daughter. "Janie" was a school teacher before becoming a full-time homemaker and mother. She and her younger siblings had been orphaned when she was only eight years old, so her early hardships fit the life of a railroad worker's wife. She died at the age of 96 after outliving GrandyPa for many years. At the time of her death from an automobile accident she was still living at home and had never spent a day in a hospital in her entire life. Dandy was a major force in my life. Her appreciation for Transcendentalism and Women's Suffrage was passed along to me via gifts of books by Louisa May Alcott, which I devoured immediately upon receipt. Her favorite Bible verses became mine (the Beatitudes), and she hummed hymns like "Peace in the Valley" as she went about her daily home chores.

My gifts from the patrician side of the family were also memorable. My grandmother Patton taught me and all my girl cousins how to play bridge, canasta, solitaire, and all sorts of card games, as well as the finer skills of hand embroidery. She could recite James Whitcomb Riley's "Little Orphan Annie" from memory and scare the socks off us.

Even the trains I associ ate with the two sets of grandparents were different.

The Hummingbird passed through my hometown of Decatur, Alabama, crossing the Tennessee River before its circling headlight lit the track coming into the depot at dawn. It ran from Kentucky to points south, but my stretch was only from Decatur to Montgomery, where I would visit my grandparents. A favorite family story is my tale of ordering breakfast in the dining car and not understanding the waiter's question, "How you want your eggs?" It sounded to me like "Ow yoo wan yo aig," an unintelligible recitation of vowels with not a consonant to be heard.

The Silver Comet br ought my maternal grandmother from Richmond. She had a lifetime pass, a perk of being married to a railroad worker. I have vivid recollections of trips on its sleeper car along the Atlanta seaboard to Richmond, tucked into an upper berth. Its nearest stop to Decatur was in Birmingham, at the former Terminal Station, a Beaux Arts work of architecture that unfortunately did not survive urban renewal:


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