By: Dave Bachmann
Miles pounded across the kitchen, a stampede of one, onto the balcony, gleefully crying, “Twain is coming!”
I followed closely, similarly excited by the prospect of the California Coaster about to roar by our rented condo while making sure my two-year-old grandson didn’t get too close to the railing.
“Get ready to wave, Miles!” I shouted as the sounds of the approaching train began to build.
And then it was there. Erupting before us; a mechanical cacophony of shrieking steel, punctuating the sea air with the shrill, discordant whistle of
‘Whoo, whoo….whoot, whooooooooo’
Miles laughed, waving frantically at faces too blurry to make out, seemingly unconcerned that no one waved back.
And then it was gone. The still aftermath accentuated by the absence of something so large and looming.
Miles glanced up at me, smiling broadly. “Twain?”
“There’ll be another by soon,” I assured him.
Miles hesitated, as if weighing the meaning of ‘soon’ before scampering off, returning to a coffee table piled high with all the ingredients of a budding artist: sketch pad, colored pencils, charcoal and erasable markers.
“I can’t believe it, Mark,” my wife quietly observed from the kitchen. “Miles has always been so sensitive about loud noises. He still covers his ears every time a fire engine goes by.”
“What can I say, Jayne? I’m a genius.”
“Hardly,” she snickered. “But I am impressed with the way you dealt with the noise, turning it into something positive. I had such a bad feeling about renting a condo so close to the tracks. And here you’ve got him looking forward to the next train.”
“Something I learned from my mother.”
“Sounds like I’m in for a story,” my wife ruefully remarked, looking up from the salad she was preparing for dinner.
“You are. It starts quite some time ago, in Derby, Kansas.”
“Where you grew up?”
“Yep. Out on our farm, before we moved to Wichita. We had some serious thunderstorms out there on the prairie. Lightening, deafening thunder, rain so hard you couldn’t see the back of your own eyelids.”
My wife plopped down in a chair at the kitchen table, crossed her arms and frowned.
“Go light on the imagery, Mr. English teacher and just tell the story.”
“Ok, sorry. Anyway, we used to get some impressive thunderstorms on the prairie. And when we did, my Mom would usher my sisters and me upstairs to the attic which had been converted into an extra bedroom. On one end was a huge bay window which looked out over the wheat fields. You could see for miles.”
“I remember seeing pictures of that house. It was cavernous.”
“And sturdy. We once had a tornado take out half our barn and the house barely shuddered. Why, I remember another time…”
“The story, Mark,” my wife interrupted, “it was just starting to get interesting.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, when we got to the attic, my Mom would pull over chairs, just inches from the window. Then, we’d watch the celestial fireworks. She’d comment on this and that, teach us how to judge how far the lightning was by counting the seconds between the flash and the thunder. Sometimes, she’d make popcorn and we’d sit up there for hours, just watching the storms. We grew to love and look forward to those storms.”
“So, your Mom taught you to love something instead of fear it. Smart woman.”
“Yes, but there’s more to the story.”
“I suspected as much. Go on.”
“Years later, after Mom had passed away, I was recounting this custom to my Dad. And you know what he said?”
“He said, ‘your Mom was terrified of storms. She just didn’t want you to be afraid of them.’ “
My wife leaned forward in her chair, considering this.
“That’s pretty amazing, Mark.”
“There is beauty in all things, for those who have eyes to see. ”
“And who dispensed that little bit of wisdom?” my wife asked.
“A sixteenth century English poet. Actually, he was much more than just a poet. He wrote plays, sonnets and even a concerto for oboe. Why he even…”
“Enough,” my wife pleaded and then, after a pause added, “sometimes being married to an English teacher is…. challenging.”
“But oh, so rewarding.”
A familiar, distant rumbling seeped into the room. Miles looked up from his masterpiece.
“Twain?” he asked in a high-pitched voice.
“Sounds like it!” my wife cried.
The three of us made a stumbling, confused dash to the balcony. The train was still a pinpoint on the tracks but was approaching rapidly, our anticipation building. And then, it burst upon us, whirling, grinding, tracks and wheels a nervous, sweeping synchronization of noise which blotted out our laughter and whoops of joy.
“Wave, Miles!” my wife and I cheered.
And we waved. And we waved. And we waved. Until the train had faded from view.
A beautiful thing.
And we had helped Miles to see it.