What motivates me to write…

by johnwilliamlindsay

First, I have to think, then I write. I haven’t written much lately, as I’ve been as worn down and frustrated as the rest of you. It is humbling to think of all the little pieces of chaos that people are dealing with, far worse than anything we have experienced, which in our experience is some real “knock you off the path to your goals kind of crap”. Today is the first day of the New Year 2022. Not a big deal here, we’re taking this one day at a time – maybe by the hour. Oh, we still plan, there are doctors appointments for both of us, one after another, and doctors scratch their heads and stroke their beards. But we feel pretty good, and we’ve accepted that we’re not going to be able to do everything we wanted to in retirement. We had plans – plans that started fifty years ago, and we were just trying the results on, when things started to hit the fan.

So what motivates me to write today? Sitting here at my desk, listening to a book, I heard the long lonesome whistle of a westbound Union Pacific freight that runs within a few hundred yards of our home. It transported me to life on the tracks on South St. in Oconomowoc, where less then a hundred feet from the Milwaukee Road tracks (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific, technically speaking) where my parents raised their family, and the railroad right of way was a significant element of our recreational orbit. We mowed the narrow right of way so that we could play football and wiffle ball, tend the burning barrel, and play with the dog. His name was Dick.

The most desirable and evocative memory from those days, though, were the hobos. Back then freight trains were one engine, maybe fifty cars, and a caboose. Probably a crew of five or six, a brakeman, a flagman, two guys in the engine, etc., but the real attraction were the traveling kind. Hobos. We lived next to a switch, that allowed trains to access the Carnation plant and the lumberyard. When the train slowed and stopped, the hobos had to skedaddle, lest they be grabbed by the railroad police or the local gendarmes. Empty cars were unlocked and sometimes open in those days, so the temptation was always there.

There was a certain romance that surrounded those men, generally feared and pitied by the locals, but more than likely mostly good folks down on their luck. Occasionally, one would appear on the back porch and ask if there was any work that could be done for a meal. Suprisingly, my mother, who was known to call the police if someone spit on the sidewalk, was usually cordial and declined the offer of work, but would provide a sandwich and a glass of water, with the almost rude admonition to be gone.

I would look to the west down the tracks, which, although they appeared to stretch to the horizon, made a turn which took the train out of sight after just a few blocks, approximately the limits of the city. What was “out there”? I would sneak a train and fare schedule occasionally at the station downtown, and from that I knew if I was to undertake train travel, it would be as a hobo.