Friday, September 4, 2009

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Your thoughts today are not worth what they were in the 1950's. A 1950's penny is worth considerably more today as the copper content then was a lot higher. Today a penny has about 90% zinc with a copper clad face.

In Canada, the penny of 1950 was plentiful but not as easily obtainable for us kids as the penny is now. We often would get a penny and put it on the railroad tracks before a train went by. Usually the penny came back to us in an oval shape and it became sort of a keepsake. If you tried that with a penny now I am not sure how it would look but I am sure it would not flatten out like the mostly copper penny did.

The saying "A penny saved is a penny earned" doesn't have the same meaning it had when we were kids. Imagine a steam engine weighing up to 175 tons rolling over that penny.

When I worked for the railroad, steam engines were on the way out and were being replaced by diesel engines. It took two or three diesels hooked up in tandem to replace those large steam engines. They were phased in slowly but in the late 1950's there were more and more diesels coming on line. I imagine those big diesels could flatten a penny in the same way but the steam engines had a magic to them all their own.

Travel by train was great. It started at their beautiful train stations. The one in Winnipeg was a thing to behold. The ceilings were higher than a little guy could throw a rock and the patterns and the little shops and ticket counters were like looking at a dream place. We waited around there to catch a train but we were just kids and we were not going anywhere. We imagined what it would be like to catch the 10:15 or 12:30 flyer.

Youser!! One just got excited to see the trains coming and going. The platforms were filled with people and the baggage carts were loaded. The passenger trains were a half mile long with skydome cars, sleepers, dining room cars, and us kids peeking from around pillars, seeing a world far away from the one in which we lived.

We caught a look at a state room one time as we snuck aboard a parked train that was open for cleaning. We poked our way down long corridor of cars that were out of sight when it came to luxury and accomodations.

We got chased away many times but we would head down again to the Winnipeg's main railroad station during our lunch hour, eating our lunches and taking a bus to and from the station to the school area with tickets we saved by sometimes catching a ride to school with folks we knew on their way to work.

Hanging around that railroad station was such fun. We used to watch a train leaving the station. The wheels of the engine would spin and there was a clatter and a chatter that made that steam engine slip and slide on its wheels for a moment. The steam would pour out above the engine along with the smoke from its belching smoke funnel. Slowly at first, it would move and then we would see the train conductor standing on the platform between cars waving at us kids. The engine roared and the sound was music to one's ears as the whole procession got underway.

We would head back to the station and look over the huge waiting room where announcements of arrivals and departures could be heard over the loudspeakers. Folks were everywhere and the sounds were like a live beehive in action. People were busy checking times and destinations and on their kids.

You heard all the sounds of living. Coughing, clearing of throats, singing, laughter, sometimes adults crying and babies crying. There were feet sticking out from the benches and the smell of food was everywhere. The most pleasant sound of all was of the train bells, steam engines puffing and railroad people calling out to all within hearing distance that it was fifteen minutes to boarding.

There were murals on the station walls and our imaginations were in full play as we imagined we were one of the passengers heading to a far off place. So much happens in a train station that it makes for a story a day. However, this story lasted a lifetime.

Four of us went to the train station on a Friday at noon. It was the usual combing the station and skirting around workers and staying away from anyone looking official. We were laughing and acting up and being mischievious when we were stopped in our tracks. There was a group of black people singing and playing musical instruments that sounded like it was coming from a far away place but it was right there before us. There must have been a good forty to fifty of them and they were waiting for a train. I never knew where they were going but their songs were especially spiritual in nature, coming from the depths of their souls. Folks in the station were gathered around and those singing were good natured people who sang like they were heading home after being away so long.

I never knew the songs but years later recognized them when I went to a special session of spiritual singing at Assiniboine park. Songs like "I feel like a motherless child," " Just a closer walk with thee," "Swing low sweet chariot."

The singers at the station sang many of the songs acappella in a bluesy sort of way. There were shouts at times along with dancing, handclapping and foot tapping. Us kids wanted to join in and the folks singing invited all who were watching to clap and dance if they felt like it. There was some moaning that was blissful mixed with humming and it was all so grand. We hung around until the last song was sung and the feeling we had was exhillarating. We left with the wonder of it all and felt in those songs there was more pain and more joy than we kids could understand.
Oh yeah, but we knew how it made us feel and so we left tapping our feet and dancing as we went back to school. What we didn't realize is that we had stayed an hour longer and we would be in for it when we went back to school. We talked it over and decided to say it straight to our teacher and principal as we knew we would be in his office before you could say jack rabbit. Sure enough, it was coming down on us but we had Jimmy speak for us because he had a way with words. He described it to a T and ended up saying, "We were caught up in the moment and we just couldn't tear ourselves away as it was like it had a hold on us." I remember the principal was smiling but Jimmy had done such a good job of saying it, and truthfully, that the principal gave us a lecture on obeying rules and how they affect everybody and went on about keeping order and the like. Finally he said for us to go back to our class and to remember in the future to think about not being late or next time there would be serious consequences.
We couldn't get out of there fast enough. Sometime later we heard back that the principal and teacher were so taken with all that had happened that they just couldn't bring themselves to punish us.
I knew from that day that our thoughts were worth much more than a penny. Every once in a while I close my eyes and I can hear those singers. The sounds fill me up and my heart seems much the better for it.
It was a place in time and the four of us kids never could shake it off. I guess we were lucky. Those kinds of experiences are not just classic, they are character building and us kids were characters that needed building to keep us going when the winters came and the home life pulled us down.

1 comment:

  1. You have a way of telling a story that makes me feel like I am there with you. Thank you Dad.