I was twelve years old or so, when our family visited my Uncle Loy and Aunt Lois and family in Clayton, NM. I’m not exactly sure why we were there or for how long we were there. It seemed to be at least two weeks, but could have been longer, especially since my brother told me he would sometimes go to work with Uncle Loy, which was across the state line into Oklahoma. Unlike many today, as a twelve year old middle child, I was not consulted by my parents to see if it was alright with me to be there. They just took me with them, with no discussion. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I was ever consulted by my parents on any level, such as if I was happy with where we lived, what I wanted to eat, where I went to school, did I have enough money? I didn’t get that input until after I left home. I guess they were “old school”. They were the parents. I was the child. They made all the decisions for me. And to be fair, it worked out well for me. I did have a bed, food, clothing every day, so no complaints from me.
If my memory is correct, Uncle Loy and Aunt Lois lived in a house that was either on a corner or had a big drive way, which made it look like a corner. The house did not face the highway. To the left of the front of the house was a highway or rural street. Running parallel to the highway was a railroad track with a siding.
Their house was a wood frame house, which I am sure was comfortable for the four of them. My family added another five, so a comfortable house for four was filled with nine. Without enough beds for everyone, the adults got the beds and the kids got a pallet. You know what a pallet is don’t you? A pallet is one or two quilts placed on the floor to recreate the nice feathery mattress feeling. At home, I spent a lot of time on the floor. I’m not sure if it was my preference or if I was not allowed to sit on the furniture.
After some time, the kid’s interest was directed across the road to the siding. There were two attractions. The first involved some future construction work. Placed at our disposal, were a number of six foot diameter concrete culverts. My brother Larry, my cousin Sharon, her little brother, David, my little sister Brenda and I would help one another to the top of these mammoth tubes. Once on top of the culverts we would try to walk them, just like we had seen clowns roll barrels in the circus. I think Larry and Sharon, being older, were more skilled than I. Once, I did get one rolling. My legs were not able to keep up with the momentum and I was thrown from the top to the ground landing on both knees at the same time.
The second attraction was where four or five cattle cars were diverted onto the railroad siding. We climbed the iron rung ladder to the top of the cars. Once on top, we ran the length of the cars, leaping across the space between the cars. We were having fun. After a little while, we heard a clanking and the railroad cars lurched. We realized the cars were being attached to an engine and were going to be moved. All of us headed toward the iron rung ladder. I was the last one down. My feet were on the next to last bottom rung when the cars lurched again and the train started moving. With the last impact, my feet had slipped inside the ladder with my legs between the ladder and the wood siding of the cattle car. This caused me to hang upside down, supported by my knees, with my arms dangling toward the gravel roadbed. I must have looked like a Sumatran orangutan on a set of elementary school monkey bars.
Larry and Sharon were running along the track, trying to grab me and get me off. I didn’t think they would be able to. Clayton is in the Northeast corner of New Mexico. In my upside down mind, the train was going to Las Cruces to cross the border into Mexico. I thought the border patrol might have given me a banana, since I was hanging and looking like an orangutan, to tide me over until the train stopped in Chihuahua, Mexico. I thought my young live was over and I would never see my family again.
All that took about thirty seconds. By God’s intervention, Larry and Sharon were able to snatch me from a moving train and plant me back on solid ground. The back of my knees were badly bruised. I was not supposed to be orphaned from my family, raised by hoboes on their way to Chihuahua. I did not have to look at door post trying to spot the mark of previous ‘boes’ who had found a free meal behind that door. I was supposed to, one day, move back to Oklahoma to a wonderful life with solid spritual values.
I never have climbed on top of a railroad car again. I think of this story, whenever I hear the clanking of railroad cars coupling together getting ready to move and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Larry and Sharon for not saying “ADIOS, MI HERMANO PEQUENO!!!’ (“Good bye, my little brother!!!)