That’s the number of railway cars there were in the freight train we got stopped by during a recent two-day drive to Chicago. We arrived too early to check into the hotel where we were spending the first night, so we drove around for a bit. It was a small town, much like the one I grew up in, and it took us only a few minutes driving down Main Street to get to the edge of town. We enjoyed noting the various types of businesses we passed, and debating what kind of food we wanted to have for dinner that night, based on the different ethnic and franchise restaurants we passed.

It was on our way back up Main Street that we got stopped by the train. Instinctively, I started counting the cars, since we were close enough to the tracks to see the crossing clearly, and the train was going slowly enough to make the cars easy to count. As the number continued to rise, I started counting out loud so I wouldn’t lose track – no pun intended. Counting the cars put me in somewhat of a hypnotic trance, and I was afraid to blink, for fear of losing count.

Suddenly I was transported back in time, to the days when my sisters and I would count the cars in the freight trains going by whenever our family was stopped at the railroad tracks that paralleled Main Street. We counted to ourselves, announcing the total after the train’s caboose cleared the tracks and we were again on our way. Often, the three of us came up with three different numbers, especially if the train was a really long one and was going fast enough to miss a few cars.

It’s funny. When I think or talk about fond childhood memories – and I have lots of them – I’ve never thought about counting cars on freight trains. And, as an adult, whenever I’ve been stopped by a train, my reaction has usually been a long, exasperated sigh, and a glance at my watch as I wondered how long the train would be, how much time I would have to spend waiting for it to go by, and how much of a delay it would cause in my getting to wherever I was going.

I’m not sure why that wasn’t my reaction when we encountered the train on our way to Chicago. Maybe it’s because we weren’t on a tightly-timed schedule. Or because we were just killing time until we could check into our hotel. Or because, after hours and hours of highway driving, it was simply a welcome change of pace.

Whatever the reason, I enjoyed reconnecting with the long-gone feeling of growing up in a small town. Of life without pressing schedules or commitments. Of a carefree existence, with the freedom to do something as mindless and aimless as counting the cars on a freight train while waiting for it to pass.

April 6, 2018
©Betty Liedtke, 2018

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