Tuesday, December 22, 2009
It's amazing what your memory can retrieve. Sometimes memories are pigeon holed in spots so deep you are not conscious of their existence. Today I experienced several of those moments where you think, "where did that come from".
The metro area model railroad club for years has displayed their treasures at Christmas time. This year they set up in the William Winter State Archive building. I conned my son and two of the grand kids into going with me. They have no experience with the steel rail other than to see them pass at a crossing, but I found my memories of this industry are deeply embedded. My father was a section foreman for the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio railroad for over forty five years. I grew up smelling creosote from the cross ties and powder in his overall cuffs from the slag that he and his crew shoveled. My best friend's father was the depot agent. I learned Morse code from the clicking, clacking sounders while sitting around waiting for my dad to come in from the days work. So model railroads were something I always wanted as a child, but we never could afford such a luxury.
When we stepped into the display room, the engineers,(men running the exhibit) greeted us with a smile from underneath their striped railroad cap and a cheerful, "Welcome to Possum Ridge". That's the name of the model community the rail setting is based upon. There's not actually a place by that name in Mississippi, but there are several close to it. I'm sure there are some unmapped local areas similar. But nothing plotted on the map.
The display covered several hundred square feet and was bordered by a plexi-glass wall. The group of wide eyed children stood on foot stools and hung onto the top of the barrier to peer through and over the plexi-glass to get the best view possible of the the miniature community and multiple train operation. The adults, most of whom were grandparents, were doing the same. Except with wider eyes, mouths agape and the occasional drool.
So.......I wiped the moisture from the corners of my mouth and started taking pictures. I lost all track of time. So much so that I could hear the G.M.&O. freight train blare it's whistle and rumble past the crossings. I smelled the diesel fumes from the Illinois Central passenger train as it clicked across the sections of rail. I smelled the hickory smoke from the open pit barbecue at the town cafe. The ping of the hammers at the machine shop, was almost drown out by high pitch whine of the saw at the saw mill and the blowers and motors at the gin. And then, there it was. The oil thick aroma of creosote that clung to my dads pants leg and his work shoes. The memory that took my breath was the sweet smell of corn bread cooking in my mothers kitchen.
I shook myself back to the present when a red headed boy jumped off his perch on a stool next to me and thudded to the floor, giggling as he ran to the other side of the room.
I have no idea where those memories and smells were stored, but I'm grateful they returned for a brief visit.
I've received another Christmas blessing.