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What's Up With Nostalgia?

Updated on December 16, 2014
An endless array of freight trains rumbled through my childhood.
An endless array of freight trains rumbled through my childhood.

Faraway Places

It is quite easy for me to drift back to a time when the sights and sounds of life seemed so much gentler; when a freight train’s blowing horn beckoned me to dream of faraway places instead of disrupting my thoughts.

In an upstairs bedroom a half mile from the railroad track, it was sheer comfort to lie snuggled beneath the covers with the window open and a cool night breeze easing through the screen. Within that cocoon of innocence I’d wait for the regular ten o’clock train just to hear the whistle echo off in the distance. It recorded its mournful tune on a loop inside my head that would play with endless precision.

I absorbed each note, marveling at its consistent intensity. My lips would curl into a smile that I could feel creasing my cheeks as a feathery laugh whispered out.

All of a sudden it would happen. I’d be gone. In my mind’s eye I’d be riding the rails to all those destinations I only read about in books. Every night would be a new adventure with friends and strangers I never really met. The darkness would always play tricks with the sad sounding wail as it disappeared down the line and I slipped off to sleep.

Life Happens

So how come that childhood souvenir now jars me awake? What transformed the melody of the train into a cacophony of noise? It used to lull me to sleep; now it'd be just fine to live in a no-horn zone.

Not so long ago it could absolutely inflame my imagination; now it simply irritates me. Back then there were moments when I’d struggle to stay alert to hear it; now I want to fall asleep before the next train disturbs the stillness.

What happened? Has chasing after deadlines and commitments turned me into a cynic? What happened? Answer: Life happened - nothing particularly mysterious or earth shattering about it. I grew up and now there are responsibilities where once there were none.

The words of a first-century tentmaker apply: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

We can resist as the universe continually unfolds according to its design or we can endeavor to get in sync. We can become permanently entrenched in the past or we can enlighten the present while we blaze a path to the future.

We each must choose how we relate to the flux and flow of life. From generation to generation, life goes on and what has been will be again. Nothing ever stays the same for long or so it seems, but most assuredly appearances can fool us. There are shadows that come disguised as newness, but on closer examination we verify the unerring observation of an ancient wise man who noted that “there is nothing new under the sun.”

Crossroads are where we learn hard lessons about the trade-offs of life.
Crossroads are where we learn hard lessons about the trade-offs of life.

Lessons & Trade-offs

There have been plenty of crossroads and transitions for me along the way.  Some set off kicking and screaming, but somehow age has managed to grant me the wherewithal to recognize the folly of wooden-headed resistance.  

I determined there is some difference between dreaming and doing.  I found out that reality can be rather nasty in its teaching methods; it tends to be a harsh taskmaster for those who refuse to learn their lessons well.  Experience has taken me to the woodshed a time or two.  

I know what it means to reach for the brass ring only to come away with a wreath of withering weeds.  I have crashed into walls, raced down dead-end streets and spent a considerable amount of time ranting in the breakdown lane.

I discovered that standing beside caskets to say good-bye to loved ones is the trade-off for saying hello to newborns.  Death is the natural conclusion of birth; the cycle of life has its own rhythm and we ought to be attuned to its harmony.

"There's beauty in the silver, singin' river..."
"There's beauty in the silver, singin' river..."
When was the last time you considered the marvelous wonder of clouds?
When was the last time you considered the marvelous wonder of clouds?

Beauty & Blessings

Along the way I ascertained wonder in the complex simplicity of creation. Or as Bob Dylan once put it: “There’s beauty in the silver, singin’ river…there’s beauty in the sunrise in the sky…”

Beauty can be seen in a clear mountain stream or revealed in the delightful questions of a curious child; it can be encountered on a sweet journey of reflection across the landscape of a bygone age.

What’s up with nostalgia is this: Nostalgia is a precious gift to be treasured; good memories are worthy of being prominently displayed on an inner wall of fame. The flipside of that has to do with bad memories, which ought to be bagged up and left at the curb for the garbage man to cart away.

The next time I go for a walk I’m going to pursue an occupation of childhood and watch clouds tumble across the sky, picking out the ones shaped like dragons. And yes, I’m going to start listening for the train whistle and use it to remind me to thank God for the countless blessings that come from being a live human being set loose on the planet.


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    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      7 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      wheelinallover - Thanks for stopping in & sharing memories & thoughtful comments. Much appreciated.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      7 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      The majority of my childhood was spent with train tracks and whistles so far away they couldn't be heard. From age six on far from what most would consider crossroads too.

      It was a simpler time, lived sparser than most children in third world countries today. There was no interest in the things of society, food was the most important factor each day. Time was consumed learning to find it and making the tools necessary to capture it.

      I did spend enough time in "the other world" to see plenty of crossroads and hear train whistles in the distance. These however were distractions from what I wanted to hear. It is the choices we make which change us. Voted up, interesting and SHARING on a facebook fan page.

    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      8 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Kim - You're welcome. Peace, blessings & much encouragement to you.

    • kimbles profile image


      8 years ago from The World

      This is the second of your hubs I have read today, again some very thought provoking comments that I am going to positively take into the new year...

      Thanks Ken


    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      8 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Docmo - Thank you for stopping in. I'm glad you enjoyed the visit. Your words are much appreciated. Blessings.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      This is an absolute gem, Ken. Glad I found this. Very well written, the language and your stream of consciousness trip down the memory lane really touched me... Well done!

    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      8 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      prairieprincess - Thank you for your kind words. Very much appreciated. Blessings.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 

      8 years ago from Canada

      Ken, this is so evocatively written ... am so full of truth. I know I am guilty of mourning the past instead of embracing the future, but that is what we have to do in order to make the best of our present season ... beautifully said and I love your quotes from Paul and Solomon, quoted so gracefully. Take care!

    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      9 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Richieb799 - Good to see you. The track of my childhood has been torn up & is now a nature trail, which is kind of neat.

    • Richieb799 profile image


      9 years ago from Cardiff, Wales UK

      I think I would of liked to have lived near a freight train track :D bit boring in the UK lol

    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      9 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thanks for stopping in, Ethel. Blessings to you.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Ethel Smith 

      9 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Many certainly need ro wake up and smell the roses.

      Nostalgia can provide good memories of those who have departed.

    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      9 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Thank you very much, Pachuca213. There is nothing in the world like watching clouds with children & getting their imaginations wound up.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      ooh I loved this one too! And thankfully because I have two young kids I can be silly with them and go back to that childhood fun with them. Laying on the grass looking for shapes in the clouds, swinging on the swings at the park or playing hide and seek. I can pretend once again what it was like and of course it makes my kids happy too. Great hub....absolutely wonderful!

    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      9 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      RevLady - Thank you for your reflections. Reading is my escape also. Nothing like a story well to relax & engage the imagination.

    • RevLady profile image


      9 years ago from Lantana, Florida

      I also believe that "Nostalgia is a precious gift to be treasured; good memories are worthy of being prominently displayed on an inner wall of fame." What a beautifully creative description and I do thank God for memories.

      There are some memories for me that are not so pleasant but still helped me to grow and contributed an element to who I am as a person. If I have any really terrible memories, they have long learned that it is totally unacceptable to bother me.

      I think it is important to exit the heavy traffic demands of life to relax and engage in imaginative and creative explorations.

      So how do I get away from the hustle and bustle of reality? I get aboard Dean Knootz's suspense train and boy, what a fictional ride (smile).

      Thanks Ken.

    • Ken R. Abell profile imageAUTHOR

      Ken R. Abell 

      9 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      AEvans - Thank you for you good words. They are very much appreciated.

    • AEvans profile image


      9 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      Many of us forget the simple things in life and need to step back get in tune with our inner child and find peace again. I believe just like you said that our lives are filled with to much hustle and bustle we need to slow down and relax. I hope that you find that little boy within again and the love for the sound of the trains whistles as they go by.:)


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