Archive for July, 2008

A Train Trip into the Past and Back

Friday, July 25th, 2008


Do you ever get a song or two stuck in you head? These past few days a couple have been swimming in circles through the puddles of my brain until I decided I had to catch them and nail them to the wall before they caused more trouble. I knew they were old “oldies.” So I began searching back into my dark past. There is really not much there; just the usual things kids do when given the chance. But it seems to be a long, long tunnel never the less. Then the songs came in a flashing torrent of memory. There they were, in all their “50’s” glory.

It all started with a letter from our local draft board; “Greetings, your friends and neighbors have selected…” It wasn’t long before I was being processed into the United States Army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Me and about a thousand other guys were shoved onto a huffing, puffing steam train, and headed west toward El Paso, Texas. Most of us were in shock from having been jerked up and sent away from our friends, family, and sweethearts. Had I been a few months younger I think I might have cried. But big boys don’t cry, do they? In Ft. Worth I was able to wire my sweetheart a mushy telegram. I hoped she was at home crying enough for both of us. She was.

All that night our troop train crept across west Texas leaving a streak of black smoke through Abilene, Sweetwater, Big Spring and Odessa. That part of Texas was a part of my background, and seemed natural to me. I wondered what the men from back east were thinking, looking at all that nothing making its way past our Pullman windows. We arrived in Pyote, Texas in late morning. Pyote was about as vacant a place can be and still have a name printed on a board outside of town. However our train stopped there. For no apparent reason. And stayed there. For a long long time. And there was not a store or station in sight. We counted tumble weeds alongside the tracks. An old man, in a cart pulled by a donkey, ambled by. We cheered him till he was out of site. Then with a huff and puff the train came alive and we were on our way again.

Pecos was a welcome sight, with its strip of green cotton wood trees hugging the river that wiggled through town. Van Horn came into view and the rocks became red and orange; a welcome relief to the white limestone for the last million miles. Clint, Texas was just a whisper as we started the downward slope into El Paso and Ft. Bliss.

As we came into the depot of the army post the sun had just dropped behind the towering Franklin Mountains, giving the valley a warm, ruddy feel. We piled out of our rolling prison, and lined up in a shaggy formation. What a sorry sight we must have been to the Commanding Office, as he welcomed us to Ft. Bliss. We were in no mood to thank him for his welcoming speech. Then the Officer played his trump card; an Army Band came around the corner playing a popular song of the times, “If I had known you were coming, I would have baked a cake.” Now that got our attention, and perked our sprits. They played several rousing marches, and we began to feel human again. Then as they marched away, they played another popular song of those days, “So long, it’s been good to know you.” We shouted our approval and thanks for their valiant efforts in lifting the gloom from a bunch of sad recruits.

And that is where those two melodies, banging around in my head, came from. You know, after deciding where they came from, I think I will just let them stay a while longer.