A Train Ride to an Unknown Stop

“A great man is always willing to be little.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

The curse of living is not age, but the aging of those around you.  One by one, the flowers of your life, those who brought you the greatest color and beauty, whither and return to the Earth.

You move on, not because you want to, but because you must.  Life’s locomotion chugs always forward, the Little Engine that Could Not Help Itself.  You carry on the memory of those you passed along the way, those who got off the train at one stop or another.

Your ticket is one with no destination.  You ride the rail, ignorant of its path, never knowing what mountain or plain that will next grace the view.  From your window seat, you watch the storms, quivering with a child’s fear, then soak in the glory of the breaking sun, relieved to have survived.

In the confined quarters of the passenger car, you meet fellow travelers.  Some ride for only short, barely noticed spurts.  Others have ridden for as long as you remember, seeming to have as steady a presence as the train itself.

One of the greatest passengers I have known, my Grandpa Joe, is likely nearing the end of his travel.  I fear his departure may leave me missing one of my great influences, one of the few people I’ve known who can transcend the scenery, never affected by snow or storm, he speaks with everyone, yelling affectionate greetings of “Hey little sister!” or “Hey little brother!” to all the children, promising to take them fishing, the way he did their mothers and fathers, the way he did me.

On his worst days, his mood has rarely been darkened.  Sitting and chatting in his overalls, with a crucifix dangling lightly from the front pocket, he always has the appearance of comfort, despite all the pain his body has given him, especially of late.

He is a man who has read the bible cover to cover multiple times.  His relationship with God is personal and strong, and his loyalty to his family as absolute and concrete as his faith.

People speak of self-actualization, those who obtained it, defining it by example.  My example is him.  His is the happiness I most admire, not fueled by possessions and titles, but by love.

The world has changed around him.  The small-town gas station he owned, often leaving the pumps unattended, the door unlocked, trusting even strangers to leave money for the gas they took, is gone.  Nothing of it remains.  The home he owned, the one in which he raised his children and his raccoon hounds, is more in need of bulldozing than restoration.  But his mark on the world, his little section of rural Iowa, is permanent and absolute.

If a man’s worth is gauged by love, then he is rich beyond any I have met.  Where others aspire for the riches of Bill Gates, or the looks of Holly Berry, I aspire only for the happiness of Joe Brammer.

I know we are nearing his stop.  As he lays in hospice, surrounded by his living legacy, God stands with him, smiling at the work he has done.  The train is slowing, the brakes shrieking sparks, as we approach the depot.  I am sad, not just for myself, but for all of us.  My Grandpa Joe will soon be leaving the train.  The ride will never be the same without him.  I have no doubt that deep in your heart, whether you know him or not, you will miss him, as well.

The horizon darkens.  The winter night will be bitter cold.   But daybreak always comes again, smiling warmly like Grandpa Joe.

5 thoughts on “A Train Ride to an Unknown Stop

  1. What you wrote is a beautiful tribute to him and I am sure that his greatest legacy is the family he behind and the many lives he touched in his journey. It is not where you journey in life but how you journey.

  2. Such potent words. And you told me you weren’t a love letter sort of guy, you liar! You’re such an amazing writer, and the train is such a beautiful metaphor. Makes me really miss Mom, knowing that her train stop arrived much too soon. Tell your Grandpa Joe to say hi to my mom when he gets there. I think they’d get along really well. Train ride just won’t be the same without them.

  3. This is very beautifully written Jack. You pictured him so well with your words that I felt like I could see him doing all those things in the past. You have a real talent Jack, keep it up. Sorry to hear of the dark days that your Grandpa is facing but I just hope/pray that he will not suffer when the time comes and everyone will be there for him. I am sure based on what you have said about him that God will take him to heaven for sure!!

  4. My dad alwsys talked about Santa Clause on the c.b. –they talked every nite back in the day. When we moved back to Iowa 32 years ago we got a c.b. and i always heard Arlo Stewart and Joe talking. Santa Clause always said “this is Santa Clause go ahead, Pepper Rabbit ,oh the good memories. He was a great guy and now he and daddy can get back to the old days and bet they have alot to say .How fitting a story this time of year had to share.

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