The Lincoln Zephyr at Midnight

The Lincoln Zephyr at Midnight

From Chicken Soup for the Grandma's Soul

The Lincoln Zephyr at Midnight

I was only three years old when my world crumbled.

I knew my mother was sick, but I did not know how seriously ill she really was.

One day a big black car came to our house and took her away to a dark, stone hospital high on a hill several miles from home. It was a tuberculosis sanitarium. Daddy could go inside the building, but we children were not allowed to enter. I remember standing by the somber building and looking at a small window high above me. Grandma and Daddy would say, “There’s Mama; wave to Mama.”

I waved, but all I could see was the faint flutter of a small white hand in the window up there.

As time went by, my father and grandma decided it was too difficult to maintain our large home and family. So the household goods were stored in a relative’s barn, and my three brothers each went to a different sympathetic family member’s home to live. I stayed with Grandma. We traveled all over Iowa. We would stay in someone’s home for a few weeks, then Grandma would pack her small black satchel and stow my things in a pillowcase and we’d go someplace else for a while. Thankfully we had a lot of relatives and friends eager to help.

Daddy rented a room in the town near the hospital so he could be near his beloved Gracie. He got a part-time job driving a milk truck. I was bewildered and sad. I did not understand what had happened. Where were my parents? Where were my brothers? And where was my sweet little dog, Jiggs?

Through it all, Grandma was my savior. She comforted me as no one else could. One day we boarded a small train and rode one hundred miles to her son’s home by the Mississippi River. What a thrill it was to ride on a real train with Grandma beside me! My uncle met us at the depot and drove us in his Model A car to his farm a few miles away. We were happy there. I almost forgot about my real family . . . until around midnight every night.

There was a railroad track across the road from the farmhouse. I loved watching the trains roar by in the daytime. But in the dark of the night the mournful wail of the whistle on the sleek new Lincoln Zephyr would waken me as it sped down the tracks on its mighty trek from Chicago. As it faded away into the darkness, I remembered. . . . I was in a strange bed, in a strange house, and I didn’t know why my family wasn’t there.

But Grandma was. She would hold me in her arms and soothe me with her lovely voice until I drifted off to sleep once more, the sound of the whistle ringing in my ears.

After my mother recovered and our family was together again, Grandma lived with us until the end of her days.

She has been gone for over sixty years now, but to this day the sound of a train in the darkness takes me back to those lonely nights when I was three, and I still yearn for the comforting, warm arms of my grandmother.

Kathryn Kimzey Judkins

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