Sifting the ashes - anything but serious

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

by Bob Allen, editor

Love those trains

Our cubbyhole in the old Main Office of the Singer Company in Trumann is just a three-iron shot away from the elevated train tracks that pass through the city. That could be good or bad.

It's good when calling up memories of the positive influence of the railway system on this area in days gone by, and even now.

It's bad if there should be a derailment and the cars being hauled through the area are laden with toxic chemicals.

Regardless, when the trains pass through, I can see the vibration in my computer monitor and feel the shuddering landmass through my toes (unless I'm seated and then it's felt somewhere else).

I'm not complaining, mind you, just stating a fact. Trains are good. They represent a strong economy when the cars are full and the trains are long.

But, what the passing trains remind me of most is my youth.

In my childhood (two or three centuries ago, it feels), I can barely recall riding the passenger train to Jonesboro with my mom. That was a time when we had passenger trains, mind you.

We would go to Jonesboro to do some shopping, see the dentist, whatever. I was just a little squirt and remember very, very little of the experience. I do remember that it beat the bus. They came later.

The trains were like magnets for a lot of us as small fry. If we heard the whistle and we were within a 30 second run, we were off like shots in the direction of the rumbling monster.

Arriving in a flash, we then settled in to enjoy the vibrating passage and await the arrival of the caboose. Remember the caboose? Some may be too young to recall this defunct part of the freight train.

It was a wonderful little red house on wheels and was always at the rear of the procession of cars. Inside were members of the crew. We could always count on one of the guys in the caboose waving at us. It was a requirement of being on the caboose, we were sure. The kids of America were important and someone had to be on the caboose to wave at us when the last car went by.

Engineers, on the other hand, were often snobs and wouldn't give a kid the time of day. We accepted this with equanimity. They were what they were and we dealt with them accordingly - in other words, we ignored them. We hadn't learned the great American salute (and our parents wished in their hearts of hearts we never would), so the engineers were never subjected to it by us.

Most of us envied Gerry Darr because he lived on Melton Avenue (though it wasn't an avenue at that time; that came later shortly after I worked on the construction project that include rebuilding Allen Street only to have them rename it something else).

Later, we found that it was no great shakes (pardon the pun) to live by the tracks. At that age, who knew?

Of course, Darr was the first to slide down the incline after a fresh snow. This was another point of envy. He let us play on "his" tracks when we got there, though.

I didn't get to ride another train until I was well out of my teens and that was in another country. It was still fun, but I would have liked to traverse America that way. Time and the realization you've reached middle age can take away your dreams.

Nonetheless, those huge locomotives and the mile-long trains are a part of our history in this community, and they hold the key to recollection for a lot of fond memories. Too, it even goes to show that there wasn't much to do here for youngsters even then. But we seemed to be a bit more creative then and we didn't need television or electronic games to have fun. Ah, the simple things were always the best. Still are.

Poke salad

I've never understood the attraction of poke salad. It has been written about, included in songs (remember Poke Salad Annie?) and thrived as a southern staple for as many years as I can remember.

And it's free. But I don't like it and I will never like it. It reaffirms my faith in the adage that states "you get what you pay for" because poke salad is free.

It grows wild and if you tend it, it dies. That should tell you that it was never meant for human consumption.

My mom and dad (grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and so forth) love the stuff. I just don't get it. It tastes too much like spinach to me. And I'm told it is good for you. That is enough to turn me off. Anything that tastes and smells so bad and is good for you has to be part of a communist conspiracy.

My neighbors in Batesville would come over every year and ask, "O.K. if we pull your poke?" Now, the first time they asked that, I had some serious concerns. Following a brief explanation of their intentions, however, all was well and I consented to their rooting around the back yard to their hearts' content.

My poke is your poke, that's my motto. Who needs it?

Computers! Bah!

For over a month and a half, now, my computer has been logging a lot of miles going back and forth to Memphis (first, it was Jonesboro) in a state of malfunction. One day, it just quit, wouldn't work, was deader'n Hogan's goat, didn't hit a lick, wouldn't compute, malfunctioned - you got it, died!

Computer techies are strange people. They talk a lot like doctors. Such terms as "we're really not sure what happened" or "we'll have to do a little diagnostic work on it" spewed from their mouths.

The last time someone talked to me like that, my car began to spend more time in the Ford shop at Batesville than it did on the road; they charged me an arm and a leg after giving up; and it still wasn't fixed!

But I had the magic word working in my favor - WARRANTY. Yeah, no cost to me, bud, but plenty of cost to someone else.

Of course, the many miles and gallons of gasoline are beginning to add up, and my little electronic buddy still isn't home to stay, yet. It's just a baby, only three in computer years, and I don't like it being away from home so much.

Besides, this is the computer age and it's hard to be considered a truly accepted citizen without that data-crunching mini-tower cranking out the words and numbers that are my life.

Come home, Big Mac, daddy misses you!

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