The 5:45 Train from Charles City to Davenport: A Short Story
The Story Continues
There are times I absolutely fall in love with my characters, and that love then manifests itself in a refusal on my part to let those characters die. This is one of those times. These are not superheroes. These are not spies or private eyes or super sleuths. They are just average people living average lives and trying to cope as best they can. This is a story for everyone, all readers invited and welcomed.
If you would like to follow this series of short stories you can catch up by following the links on the right. I hope you do and I hope you learn to love these fictional people as much as I do.
Let’s find out what they are up to this time.
- The 6:10 Eastbound is Leaving the Station: A Short Story
Go on a train ride with me as we discover America and make friends on-board
- The 7:15 to New Orleans Leaving on Track Number Nine: A Short Story
An American story continues down South on the bayou
- The 8:20 Train for Iowa is Leaving the Station: A Short Story
The story continues as our two young lovers discover their futures among seven-foot tall corn.
Back to Dad’s Birthplace
On a colder-than-shit day we all boarded the 5:45 train for Davenport. My dad would have said it was colder than a witch’s tit, but he wasn’t saying much of anything that day. Benjamin James Dale was dead, shrink-wrapped by cancer and gone from this earthly plane. Snow flurries began just about the time his coffin was loaded in the baggage car. Mom, my sister Jeannie, my main-squeeze, Sarah with an h, and me, all heading to Davenport, Iowa, where we would lay dad to rest in his hometown and then get on with the business of living.
One-hundred and eighty-seven miles, four hours by train through the bleak Iowa landscape, the fields lay barren, many blanketed quickly by the invading snowstorm, old John Deere’s abandoned where they gave up the ghost, monuments to the past, like headstones of history. Mile after mile with Sarah by my side, mom and Jeannie across from us, all lost in our own thoughts, memories of a larger-than-life man, a simple man, a sturdy man, a man who braved many an Iowa winter, took on all nature could dish out, fought the battle of falling corn prices and rising grain prices and too damn much government interference and never once, not for a goddamn second, asked for a handout or voiced regret.
Sarah squeezed my hand. “He was a good man, Sugar. I’m glad I had the chance to meet him and know him a bit.”
“He was for sure, hon. He liked you and that’s for damn sure. He lit up when you entered the room. I think he saw little Dales coming out of our union, future farmers of America.”
She laughed and I loved that laugh. “I can just see it, four or five of our little ones, all wearing bib overalls and chewing tobacco, working the fields sun up to sun down, carrying on the Dale tradition.”
“Is that what you want?” I asked her. “Four or five little ones?”
“God no!” and she treated me to another of those beautiful laughs, and mom and Jeannie joined in.
Dust to Dust
He was in the ground by eleven; we were back on the train by noon, heading back to prime corn country, our own little slice of Iowa heaven, two-hundred and sixty acres of backbreaking, widow-making dirt and cow shit.
We shed a few tears at the gravesite but not many. Dad wouldn’t have wanted that. He was always looking ahead, and I could hear his voice in my head as we clickity-clacked our way back to Charles City….”Make damn sure you’ve got enough feed, William Dale. That snow is likely to be with us for a spell.”
The thing is, I don’t want to be a farmer. Never wanted to be. Oh, I was the dutiful son growing up, helping on the farm, doing what needed to be done, but I didn’t like it, wasn’t emotionally invested in it, and from the age of ten to the day I turned eighteen, I had planned my escape.
The escape came when I left for college, saw life outside of the Hawkeye State, found out there was so much more than baling wire and fence posts, accepted my degree, traveled some, sowed some wild oats, eventually met Sarah with an h and now, lo and behold, back on the farm where I started from and facing some decisions.
Mom knew all too well what those decisions were. We stepped off the train in Charles City, gazed out at the town shrouded in white, and as we walked to our car, Mom grabbed my arm. “Feed the cows when we get home, William Dale, and then we need to have a family talk. Sarah, you’re a part of the family now, so you should sit down with us and talk about the future.”
Sarah helped me with the feeding. Decisions hung over us as we tossed hay bales in the pasture. I knew what she was thinking. She knew what I was thinking.
“William, whatever you decide, I’m fine with it,” she told me.
“Mom’s going to want us to stay, Sarah. I don’t know if I can do that. This isn’t my life, hon. This isn’t the life I want for us. You’re a Cajun girl. This is no life for you, cold-assed winters, cold-assed wind, hotter-than-Hades summers, dust blowin’ and crops failin’. It can be a damn brutal life, Sarah.”
“Let’s sit down with your mom, Sugar, and hear her out. Don’t you be worrying about this Cajun girl. I’m tougher than I look and I’ve got my mind set on staying with you, so you leave me out of the equation. Family is the priority, and I’m feeling like this is my family now.”
We ate an early dinner of roast beef and potatoes, and after Sarah helped Jeannie with the cleanup, the four of us met in the living room in front of a roaring fireplace. It was Mom’s meeting so she started it off.
“William, Sarah, I appreciate you two staying here through Benjamin’s last days. It was important to him, important to all of us, and I love you both for making that sacrifice. Shush now, I know you don’t want to be here, William, and it’s all right. Farming is a thing of the past, a tough life and I certainly understand someone not wanting this life.
“We need to talk about all that. Jeannie and I can’t take care of this farm. We know that and you know that. I’m thinking we should sell the farm and find us a small place in town where we can live comfortably and be done with this foolishness. This farm made an old man of my husband and it will break all of us if we keep on. So we need to talk it all out. William, Sarah, we need to know if you are moving on. If so I’ll call the realtor tomorrow. You two owe us nothing. Jeannie and I have already talked about it and we are fine with whatever decision you make.”
So there it was. The unspoken was spoken. The thousand-pound gorilla was released from his cage for all to see. We stay and the farm lives on. We leave and the farm disappears from our lives, the farm I tried so hard to leave forever, the farm that somehow continues to infect my blood and keep me chained to family history. Three generations of Dale family history, dating back to the turn of the century, each and every one of them fighting the earth, scratching and clawing just to get by, fighting odds that were stacked against them from the time they pushed through the birth canal and slithered from the womb.
My book on writing
I stared at the floor. Tears formed in my eyes. The clock atop the mantel filled the room with the passage of time. A mother, daughter and son, each holding their breath, lost in their own thoughts, leaving the decision-making to the outsider, the Cajun girl from New Iberia, Louisiana, no relation whatsoever to the Dale family but the only one in the room willing to tilt the balance.
“We’re staying,” Sarah said.
I looked at her in disbelief. “Sarah, we……”
“Hush now, Sugar. It’s the right thing to do and you know it. Family is all that counts in this life. It’s the only damn thing of any importance, so don’t you be talking to me about traveling and seeing the world, and don’t you dare tell me this is too tough a life for this Cajun, ‘cuz I can work you under the table any old day. I only have one request. I want my Maw Maw to live here with us. She’s all alone down in Louisiana, and she don’t have too many years left. She’s my only family, she raised me, I love her and I want her here. If you can spare a bedroom for her I’d be obliged.”
My mother started crying, something I had only seen three or four times in my lifetime. Jeannie got up and rushed to Sarah and engulfed her in a hug. “You’re wrong about something,” my sister told Sarah. “Your Maw Maw isn’t the only family you have. You’ve got us.”
And so It Goes
Sometimes the wisest thing I can do is just keep my mouth shut and let someone else do my talking for me. Sarah is one of those people. We’ve only been together for six months but she knows me, at times better than I know myself.
Do I want to be a farmer? Hell no! Do I love my family? Hell yes!
She’s right, you know. Family is all-important. Makes no difference, in the end, whether I’m a farmer, a businessman or a wayward do-nothing. All that matters is that I spend my life loving my family and providing for them, and in return they’ll do the same for me.
What more can a man ask for?
Oh, by the way….the snow melted in early March, and one sunny morning as the crocuses broke the surface, Sarah with an h informed me that she was pregnant. She said we should go shopping for some bib overalls.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)