Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hear The Whistle Blow 500 Miles

" If you miss the train I'm on , you will know that I am gone you can hear the whistle blow 500 miles." Even in the sad words of this old folk song there is a story. You have to catch the train and and it won't wait for anybody. Once it's left the station it is a haunting sound, the whistle as it blasts its way through the countryside growing fainter in its call with each mile.
There is something magical and mysterious about trains. Since their inception they have captivated all who live where the whistle can reach their ears. It is not surprising that the train became a symbol of escape in the " Underground Railroad" . Certainly some fugitives of slavery left families behind and they took their chance for freedom, the whistle and rumble of the train pulling away mile after mile brought sadness and hope in mixture we can't possibly comprehend.
When I was five we moved and since it was April and the town did not offer a kindergarten class I stayed home the rest of the year. It was an adventure after living on a cul de sac to move to the country with barns and hay lofts, a calf and new kittens, fields to roam, there was so much. September rolled around and I was to follow my older brother to the elementary school just up the road. That first day of school came and we boarded the bus and were gone. I came home telling grand adventures. If ever, the storyteller in me was born on that day. I told how we road the bus, about all the students standing on their chairs to see the train pass by the windows and the teacher yelling for us to be seated. I told about lunch under a willow tree and waving to a conductor as he slowed his train enough so we could see his smile and the stripes on his conductors hat. I can't imagine the concern my parents felt. How could one day of public school turn me into the world's greatest liar. How could I be so imaginative that I would make up such a far fetched tale. Behind closed doors I'm sure they discussed it, probably came from a story the teacher read. They must have shared a nervous laugh. The next two days were worse with the elaboration on the story growing. My brother was grilled, did he see me in school, was I OK on the bus. Of course he didn't he was an "upper class man" being a boy of the third grade he wouldn't see a baby sister, they went out to play separate. I saw nothing wrong with the inquisition, I didn't expect him to see me. I told of my friends and about work we did, but each day we stood on our chairs to see the train and the teacher yelled. My parents asked neighbors about the teacher but she had a very good reputation as a first grade teacher. Hmmmmm! My story continued, one of the class jobs I had been assigned was to go out on the front steps of the school and help carry in our milk. It was all out there for us each morning in a wood crate and we brought it in and put it in a refrigerator. My parents thought it funny the kitchen staff didn't do this task but chores are good for children this teacher must be old school. I told about going to the cellar to use the bathroom and how the stall doors a shade of apple green creaked and groaned and were creepy. I never wanted to go down there alone but since there were two we were sent in pairs. My parents sent a child to school and been so befuddled by the incredible change in me. From a very normal 5 year old I had instantly become a notorious liar and most every statement that week was followed by , are you sure, did that really happen, are you sure it was that way? The questions rolled off my back like water. I knew exactly what I was talking about.
The weekend came and I am sure the relief that I would be watched and no more inventive tales of a mysterious school with trains next door would surface. Oh, surely they had done one more circuit of the school, no train , no willow, no downstairs, it was all just to much, had the move been that disturbing, and otherwise I seemed perfectly normal. I was perfectly normal but basking in the glow of so much attention. I don't remember where we were going, I'm not sure we ever went any further the rest of the day is a blank in my memory. We climbed into Dad's company car, a Rambler and headed off, my brother and I in the backseat. There were no seat belts, I had a habit of sitting on the very edge to see out the window often choosing the middle where I could see between my parents as we drove along. We crossed the cement bridge into the next town and Dad signaled right. Down the tiny back road we went when I clearly shouted out, " There's my school" Just like a scene in the old movie "Miracle on 34th Street". I looked out the window and up on the rise was my school. The car had jerked to a halt. My parents sat there a long time in disbelief. We were not in Coventry anymore. In front of them was a two room brick school. The Reynold's School in Mansfield Depot. I was excitedly pointing out places, "There's the willow and see the empty milk crate on the steps, and maybe a train will come while we are here." It didn't , but it didn't need to, my parents could see the tracks running by, right next to the school yard. They would be running slow here to stop around the bend at the feed store in the depot.
It must have been long weekend of waiting. a mixture of relief and curiosity. The school was real enough, the tale about it and how I had seen it still was so strange. Monday morning my brother and I went off to school as usual. I think my mother was on the phone the next minute. Reaching the Office of the Grammar School she was informed I was in the group bused to the Reynold's School. The incoming class was so large, the last hurrah of the baby boom and there was no where near enough classroom space. An addition was in progress but it couldn't be done in time. Indeed from the very first day of school I had ridden to the grammar school with my brother. We stood in line by class until all the buses arrived and were dismissed to our rooms. He went down the long hallway to third grade and I back out the front doors to re board a bus and take the 15 minute ride to the Depot. The teachers were chosen based on the fact they thought they could handle the students well so far removed from the administration and school services.
First Grade was an amazing year. It was an adventure. I fell in love with the trains. The engineers always looked so happy to see us out playing. We thought they slowed to wave to us, what did we know about the loading docks at the Thompson's Feed Store . I think I learned to count just so I could count how many cars were in the train. Today when I go to buy horse feed I still count the cars as they slowly rumble through the depot heading down to the sea or back toward Vermont. The milk that sat in crates each morning for our class was delivered by Mountain Dairy, how would I have ever guessed I would one day marry into that farm family and live so long in Mansfield. The Reynolds School was unused for many years after our season of waving to the conductors and playing under the willow. It then became a storage building for the school system.
Recently is was totally renovated and brought up to code. Gone were the creaky green stall doors and the old refrigerator. Inside and out the Reynold's School today is a beautiful new school. It houses a Big Picture School . This program is gaining momentum in placement of students who don't thrive in the traditional school setting. Our Big Picture School is an off shoot of E.O.Smith High School It was a wonderful day for me when the newly opened program hosted me as storyteller and I unfolded the tale of the World's Greatest Liar and ended with .. "That's how my year in the Reynolds School went!"

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