Hurry! He’s driving the train

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 27, 2002

As I’ve gotten older, my family has come to mean so much to me &045; my immediate family with mama and daddy, my brother and his wife (Chris and Lana) and my extended family with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.

We learn from each other, we teach each other, we dote on the younger and love on the older.

We rejoice in our collective and individual triumphs; we mourn for our collective and individual sadnesses.

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And it is that sense of ‘we’ as a unit that has come to mean a great deal to me.

This fact was never more evident than it was this past Sunday.

The first weekend of every November, my family on my mother’s side gets together to celebrate Granddaddy Howell’s birthday. He was 80+ this year.

Everyone arrived just before church, so we took up two long pews, and all of us were not even there.

Mama has four sisters, all of whom were there, and a brother, who couldn’t make it. With spouses, that makes 12 total. Add to that 12 grandchildren, three spouses, one great-grandchild and one on the way along with Grandaddy and Granbetty and the grand family total is 31.

There were about 20 of us there on Sunday.

We spent a lot of time together &045; laughing, talking, eating, laughing some more and eating way too much.

Grandaddy lives in Greenville, Ala. It’s the place on which the town of Industry (pronounced En DUH Stree) in Mark Childress’ book "Crazy in Alabama" is based.

Now, Greenville has changed quite a bit, even from the way I remember it visiting there as a child. It’s grown up along Interstate 65 and still appears to be growing.

Downtown still looks the same to me, though. There’s the courthouse square on one end of Main Street and the depot on the other end.

It’s a quiet, sleepy, little town and yet on Sunday, to us, it was the center of all the excitement in the world.

Near the end of the day, my aunt’s cellular phone rang and she answered it to find my cousin on the other end.

He works as a train conductor or engineer (one of those, I’m not sure which) for the railroad &045; driving trains from Montgomery to Flomaton.

He told his mother he was three minutes outside of Greenville on the way to Montgomery.

So, like clowns at the circus, we piled into two cars and drove like mad to the depot.

We just missed him, but as we were sitting there at the depot watching the end of the train go by, I could close my eyes and see him &045; head stuck out the window to the side, waving as passed by the places he had grown up wearing a red bandanna around his neck and a train engineer’s cap on his head.

He loves his job, and the rest of us are so proud of him.

After all, as a child growing up in a small southern town, you are always aware of the train tracks &045; many times splitting the two sides of town right in half.

Playing revolved around those tracks &045; walking along them, jumping over them with your bike or just rushing out to count the cars when the windows in your grandmother’s house start shaking.

That love of trains must be in my blood. My great-uncle, after all, hopped a train as a hobo in the 1950s and traveled all the way out west where he finally settled, and when my daddy wanted my brother to be born on February 29 (Leap Day), 1976, he walked mama up and down the railroad tracks.

So, it’s perfectly appropriate for us to get a thrill from seeing my cousin driving a train.

I just hope the next time I get to actually see him instead of only imagining the sight.

Anyway, just pondering a small-town, Southern family reunion …