I hiked about a mile and a half today in air so muggy I was tempted to lay back and back-stroke through it. It was a nice enough walk, mostly on Walnut Street as far as 7 Highway. Oddly, the city has only installed sidewalks on one side of the street for most of that distance. Odder still, it isn’t the same side for the whole length–so I was crossing from the north side to the south side of the street like lacing shoes. The burst green outer casings of walnuts littered the sidewalk on the west side of 15th Street, which is the only main north-south artery this side of 7 (*not* “7th”). The walnuts should have come as no surprise.
Across 15th I cut over to the north side of the road and climbed a modest, man-made hill–an overpass, in fact, spanning the tracks of what was originally the Chicago & Alton Railroad. I stopped midway over the hill to gaze upon the tracks. About halfway between the overpass and Main Street is a switch point, where a single line of tracks running north-to-south splits and becomes two parallel lines.
It made me wish I had my model railroad. I got a simple HO-scale model train for Christmas one year. I must have been ten or eleven. It was a simple round track which I could run an engine around and around, pulling however many cars I chose to add between it and the caboose.
Over the years I saved gift monies and cash from various jobs I worked as a teen, adding more cars and new track–switches and intersections and arcs and straight lengths–and scaled scenery to the set. It was always my “plan” to mount it on plywood and create my dioramic railroad world.
I never did. I kept the track and cars in a cardboard box in my closet and unpacked it to set it up on the hardwood floor of my bedroom when I was a teenager. I carried the box with me to Texas and back when I went off to University and got married, always intending to find room in my home to set up a table with the train set.
The last I remember seeing the train was before my middle sister and I took off for California. I stashed the box in an overhead attic in the family home. That was 1988. Another sister and brother-in-law were living in that house, then. My parents are back there, now. I have no idea of that box of HO train pieces is still in that attic. But something about seeing that line of train tracks this afternoon, running to a tree-shrouded vanishing point, pieced together a series of unrealized hopes and dreams and ambitions and plans.
I always knew the railroad was a metaphor in my life. I didn’t realize it started with a toy.