October 14, 2010

Every Child Needs Something Big - Pamela Mytroen

The train bumps over the switches and I feel the wave as it rolls from the engine, through the sleeper cars, dining car, the coach I sit in, and continues on behind me to the end of the train snaking through the mountains of Montana. Its crossing song composed of ancient harmonies cries out to warn careless drivers or hungry deer on the tracks. For some sleeping passengers,it soothes their dreams. For myself, awake in the dark coach, it sings a song of memory and longing.

Every child needs something big in their lives. For me it was the train.

As a young girl, living in Canadian Pacific Railway Stations, the sacred sigh of the whistle resonated with my beginnings, calling to conception. And its lingering cadence on the prairie horizon spoke to my eternal soul. But mostly, it defined my childhood by intrigue, and sweetness.

My morning greeting and bed-time lullaby - the sleepy serenade in the distance - reminded me that all was well with the world, at least on my side of the tracks, and when the engines grew closer and rumbled by, shaking the windows and walls of my bedroom, I felt small and humbled and hidden by God.

My earliest memories are red, roaring and rumbling. I could feel the roots of my teeth every time. But my Daddy was always in his office where the safe fragrance of bleached paper and carbon cleansed my insecurities.

I thought every child stood barefoot on the sun-warmed platform, amazed by their tall father. He stood with yellow orders clipped to a tall “P” and leaned out over the tracks as the train stormed by. The engineer looped his arm through the wooden circle, took what he needed and tossed away the alphabet letter. Didn’t every child get to chase the train as it sped away, retrieve the hoop and return it to a Dad who would toss you in the air and hug you?

And when the floor shook didn’t every child’s secrets and prayers tumble out like marbles in a game of Kerplunk, only to pick them back up again, all slippery and rolling about, and quickly tuck them back in before anybody noticed?

Big boundaries hedged me in. A red bracket in front, the CPR Engine, and a steepled bracket behind – the Baptist Church. The bustling Co-op Grocery store and my flag-poled school across town completed the parenthesis of life around me and I knew my place.

It was the in-between where I lived and found sanctuary. My back yard, just down the slope from the relentless rails, beckoned me into its garden of grass and secrecy. Tall pines watched and whispered as the train’s minor melody inspired mysteries to be acted out with friends and games to be played. And when the freight cars passed by we scuttled up to the tracks and walked on molten-steel, with arms stretched out, skinny legs balancing just so until the aroma of fresh bread wafted towards us and we raced each other back home.

Inside my house another harbor welcomed. Never mind that we didn’t have running water. We had the luxury of a freight room with an expanse of hard wood floors made just for running and sliding on sock feet. Crates of yellow chicks waiting to be transported, jiggled and cheeped until my sister and I pried open the lid and pressed the downy velvet against our cheeks.

Peering into Daddy's office with my chin resting on the smooth worn ticket counter, the dong of the large pendulum clock and the squeal of his castor-wheeled chair became the prelude of my measured days and as I worship here in the ceremonial sway of spark and steel I am thankful for having had big things in a small life.

by Pam Mytroen


  1. You created the feel and mood of your childhood experiences very well. I could almost smell the smells and certainly remembered the feel of a downy yellow chick. Thanks!

  2. Oh I loved the peek into your girlhood.

    Trains have always had a fascination for me... but not with the intimacy of your own memories. I always loved the train whistle as it blew on the tracks about a 1/2 miles from our farm in Alberta.

  3. What a wonderful perspective on trains! I didn't even realize there were kids whose dads worked on the trains and so felt these iron horses practically part of the family. What fabulous memories!
    (And a lovely photo at the top - your family, right?)

  4. Yes, Violet, that's our family at Castle Butte in Saskatchewan. It's a wonderful hike to the top! The picture doesn't show it, but we I was all muddy from a slip and a slide down the clay hill!

  5. Thanks LC and Brenda! I'm appreciating my childhood memories more all the time.

  6. Love it! The train has always fascinated me (and I still travel on it!).

  7. Thanks Lynda,
    I still love travelling on the train too. Everyone is more down to earth than on the plane. We always take our card games and get to know people.


Thank you for taking the time to join in the conversation. Our writers appreciate receiving your feedback on posts you have found helpful or meaningful in some way.