by: Mildred Swanson
As I sit here this morning reading the monthly “Newsletter” which tells me we now have a Lion’s Club, Jaycees, Chamber of Commerce and other civic organizations in Clive. It is unbelievable that over the years Clive has made such growth and still growing.
The other day as I strolled up the track and around the block, I began to wonder what had happened to the neighborhood. When had it disappeared and sub-divisions and commercial development began to appear? Our small community, somehow had character and warmth, and personality all its own. A sub-division has split-level homes, apartments and landscaped yards, people who barely know each other, and nothing, as far as I could see, to distinguish one from another, nothing of which memories are made.
There are no sidewalks covered with hopscotch lines or sample drawings of budding artists. I couldn’t help but notice the many apartments that have been built in the last few years. There were few trees in sight big enough to support a tree house or a rubber-tube swing. The lawns were all manicured to within an inch of their lives. None were marred by paths trodden by the feet of running children or have bare spots where the youngsters dig for gold or make mud pies, and there wasn’t a front porch to be seen. There was no place for a porch swing where so many childish secrets were shared, no place to play during a summer rain. No banisters to saddle and ride off into the sunset.
I noticed there seemed to be no people, no women hanging out their laundry, no one visiting over the backyard fence, no men pitching horseshoes, no children in the yards playing “Andy Over,” “Run, Sheep, Run.” Where was everybody?
As I looked around, I couldn’t help wondering what memories our children will have to keep them warm when the often cold adult world closes in around them. I have many…
I have my memories of a summer evening. There are the sounds of children playing “Hide and Seek” or tag in the last light of day. As it became dusk, my mother, her days work finished, came out to sit on our front porch where she was joined by one or two neighboring couples. We children chased fireflies, being careful not to wander too far away. My mother and the other women sit on the porch sewing, discussing their day’s activities, the church (so called Sunday School) supper, their children, or sharing items they had read or heard from others.
The men sit on the porch steps, their cigarettes or cigars glowing in the quiet dark, as they talked over the latest happenings in the mines and railroads, where a lot of them worked, wonder at the world events, analyze the latest boxing matches, or swap stories and tales so dear to their hearts. They watched the train as it rode off in the distance. Finally one of the women decrees it is time to go home as “tomorrow is another work day.” Gathering together their families, they would leave.
I would curl up next to my mother, as she swings away. The family dog quits his frog hunting and jumps on the swing to savor the delight of being next to his mistress, and we would spend the last few minutes of that warm summer evening encircled in life and peace. Even then, we never wanted it to end
And it never has. Those evenings live with me, even now. Those memories are among my most precious possessions.
I realized the old neighborhood is gone now, sacked by time and change. The children are grown and gone; the adults are old and worn; the houses are weathered or torn down, but I find my heart is still here, locked in time remembering.
Neighbors came around at butchering time and apple picking time. It was common for a neighbor woman to ask how to sew on a pocket or hem a shirt. When death came, there was somebody to clean house, to carry in food, to help with the milking, and to just sit and talk.
Grief and sickness always brought in neighbors with understanding and sympathy, but it was not all grief. The arrival of a new baby brought neighbors, too, with baby blankets, clothes, admiration and encouragement. It would have been a neighborhood sin to “hire” somebody to help in a house at the time of birth or death. There was a warmth of love between neighbors. It is sad that this is gone.
Kids had fun, too. There were farm chores, but still time for swimming and fishing. Scarcely an afternoon went by in the warm summer that I did not tag along with the gang down the dusty road, barefoot, through the barbed wire fence, along the path to the swimming hole on Walnut Creek.
Once when we approached the swimming hole, we heard voices-another bunch of kids had taken over our private domain. It was so hot we went down the creek and found another hole to swim in.
Whatever happened to people? They don’t knock at the door anymore. Visiting has sort of gone out of style. With the ending of the horse and buggy, with wives and mothers working, with kids being bused to schools thirty miles from home, man has become an island surrounded by people who are just too busy to care about him. The man down the road works in the city, goes to church there, belongs to the country club there and just comes home to sleep.
We have telephones now. Used to be able to call central and say, “Will you look across the street and see if John Doe’s horse is tied to the telephone post in front of the grocery store?”
Once mother bribed a neighbor down the road to stop. She gave her a pot of blooming tulips from her garden. She stayed and talked for two hours. They had so much to talk about. Nearly two years went by before she saw her again, except to wave as she went by.
Shopping isn’t fun anymore. The neighborhood grocery store is gone. We stand silently while the checkout girl rings up a sack of groceries. She has a name tag on so we don’t have to ask her name. No use to know her because when we come in next week a new girl will be in her place. We can’t chat with the store owner anymore. The manager is probably from Kansas, Nebraska or Minnesota. To cash a $5.00 check we have to be photographed, finger printed and show a driver’s license. We feel insulted, having lived in this small town for many years.
You can’t talk to your doctor. The nurse sees to that. “You got a sore throat? Well the doctor can see you in three weeks from today!” Yes, one can go to the hospital.
You can’t drop in and talk to the teachers about a kid. Have to talk to the principal and he will talk to the teacher.
You open a bank account in one of the 12 branches nearest you because you know the girls who work there and they call you by name. There is no personal banker anymore. You go in a week later and the girls have been transferred to another branch and the teller says, “May I see your identification?”
I shall never forget when somebody yelled, “Here comes the train!” and we children would run to wave at it. The railroad tracks ran close by in front of our house and were a source of interest and joy to all of us.
The trains had a pretty constant time schedule. Both passenger and freight trains chugged past with much noise and smoke. Steam swooshed out a pipe on top of the black engine. Many a night my mother would watch to be sure sparks did not light on the house roof.
In between trains the speeder would come by with its pop-pop popping motor. We kids called it the buggy. It was a little square vehicle with no top. The “buggy” carries the track repair crew of four to five men and their shovels and picks and lunch pails to this spot and that where they would stop and dig around.
It was always fun to watch. Sometimes they replaced old cross ties and sometimes leveled rails. They shoveled course gravel between the ties, and rails were fastened to the ties with huge spikes. Often we could hear the clanking as men swung their huge sledge hammers. This track repair job provided employment for many of our young and old. Each small town along the line had their own “section crew” they had so many miles to cover and meet. Sometimes overlapping if certain work had to be done. The overall track was kept in repair by what was called “bridge gangs”. They would have several cars which contained a kitchen, and bunk cars. They had their own chef. They would pull in on the siding and stay for two or three weeks at a time, repairing all necessary work to keep the track in good shape.
A few minutes before each train was due, the men hastily lifted their little truck off the tracks to the side to get it out of the way of the train. We kids would get nervous if we heard the train whistle and the motor car was still on the tracks. We clinched fists and then stood back and watched as they hurried.
Then the fast speeder flew by carrying the “inspector” who, I supposed was looking for cows. Many times I had heard people refer to that funny looking grill on the front of the train as the “cow catcher.” That speeder had a roof over it that was painted orange. It went by very fast.
The tracks were littered with big black chunks of coal that had fallen off the coal cars. We would often walk the tracks, collecting coal in a bucket for mother to burn in the cook stove.
In summer, we watched men with pack sacks walking the tracks. I thought it was hard to walk the tracks. The ties were not always an equal distance apart, and it was tricky business to try to balance on top of the rails. We only tried when there was an older person along. We were cautioned never to go near the tracks unless someone took us, and we didn’t dare disobey.
We could hear the train whistle when it neared the crossing about two miles away and the engineer always blew the whistle as they neared our small town.
In summer we would dash out to the tracks to wave. “Now don’t go across the road,” our mother would caution every time we stood on the big flat rock and held to each other so we wouldn’t tumble onto the track. The engineer in his striped cap sat up high with his arms resting in the window ledge. We were always delighted to have him wave back at us. The fireman, standing between the coal car and the engine, paused from shoveling coal into the hungry fire box of the locomotive and he waved, too. We watched the big iron bar that connected the wheels go up and down and back and forth in powerful strokes. Then we enjoyed watching and listening to the cars swaying and clacking past. We saw oil cars and closed box cars, a cattle car. Cattle cars had spaces between the boards and we could see whether there were cows or pigs or sheep inside, and we counted the cars if it looked like it was going to be an extra long train.
We watched for the men who were looking for a free ride. We called them “bums.” Once in awhile, we saw a bum riding atop a load of pulpwood, but most often they acquired themselves a box car so they would be in out of the wind. In fair weather they sat in the open doorway. We always waved at them, too, and most often they waved back.
Then, at last, the end of the train came in sight. The big red caboose was the best part. Sometimes the trainman was standing out on the platform with the black rail around it. Other times he sat up in his window. We wondered how he got up there. We called him the conductor and he waved too.
On the afternoon (4:00) train there was something special. The man in the caboose threw off our daily papers. There were no deliveries by paper boy back then. These were rushed to the Post Office for distribution.
In winter when we heard the whistle, we dropped our toys and dashed for the kitchen window to wave. Even mother waved. Occasionally there a different crew, but that didn’t matter. All of the freight train crew waved. We had little interest in the passenger trains. For one thing, they went too fast, and besides, they had no caboose.
At Christmas time there was a special treat—hard candy hidden in the middle of papers. One Easter, the train slowed down and came to a stop! We always wished it would, of course. They were the first colored eggs we had ever had. What a wonderful present. We wanted to save them forever. They were blue and green and yellow and we thought they were the most beautiful gift anybody could want.
We never knew the names of all the men but a few still cling to my mind. Mr. McCutcheon (father & son). Pinky Hartshorn, Kemp Brothers, Carl Moody and many more. The sound of a train still brings back the memory of our over-the-rail friends of long ago. I wonder if they knew how happy they made three little girls and one small boy who, over the years, never forgot them. I will always wish that we had had a chance to say “Thank You.” The memory feels so unfinished.