Night Sounds

Going to my Grandpa’s house was a real treat when I was 6 years old. In my memory are distinct sounds associated with that place. At that time they lived in a small village in the Adirondack Mountains. It is a big old rambling home made of brown colored river stone. Lots of big Maple trees grew around the house.  The house was located on the edge of some woods.

I always stayed in a bedroom in the back of the house on the second floor. The kitchen with its big wood-burning stove the color of gun-metal was in the back of the house too. The only way to get to my room was through the kitchen and up this creepy dark spiraling staircase. My older brother told me that the reason Grandpa kept it so dark was so the ghosts could sleep. “And that creaking noise that you hear as you step up the stairs is just the ghosts being disturbed as you walk. So walk lightly.”

Every morning before daylight I would hear my Grandpa go out the kitchen door and down into the coal cellar and shovel coal into the furnace. One morning I got up and came down to the kitchen and followed him. It is dark, cold and scary down there. While he shoveled coal I swept the floor. Fairly soon I began to hear a tapping in the pipes all over the house. Shivering I moved closer to Grandpa.

“Grandpa, is it true what my brother told me?”

“What did he tell you Lee?”

“He said that the tapping came from small green ugly gremlins trying to escape the furnace through the pipes so they could catch small boys like me.”

“Well that story sounds better that the plain fact that the tapping is the hot steam expanding the iron pipes in the house as it heats up. Not to worry. No little gremlins allowed in my furnace.” I made a mental note to go hit my brother with something at the first chance.

Once a day, in the early morning after Grandpa had fed the furnace, the freight train came through town pulled by steam locomotives. I had asked several times “Grandpa, can I watch the trains … please” but always the answer was “it too early.” The tracks came from the east, wounding back and forth up the steep valley. Before coming through our village that sat on the side of the mountain, the tracks ran across a river on a trestle. Early in the morning, long before I would hear Grandpa, I would hear the lonely sound of the train’s steam whistle way off in the distance as it made its way through the valley. I loved that sound. I used to love hearing the steam engines coming up the trestle through the valley into town. The grade was so steep that a single engine could not pull the train alone.

One morning long before daylight, Grandpa came into my room with a kerosene lamp and woke me up. “Hurry and get dressed. I have a surprise for you.” Just then I heard the lonely whistle in the distance. “Are we going to see the train” I asked?

“Sure let’s go.” So off we went. Cutting through the woods we reached the tracks crossing the street. A big white wooden pole with boards crossed on the top with the words STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN written on them marked the crossing. Grandpa took me over to the sign and we stood there. He was holding my hand tightly. Around the bend came the train. Four big black steam engines with a brass bells and railings came into view. They were huffing and puffing in unison as they pulled the rest of the train up the grade.

What an awesome sight. Almost immediately I could feel the earth under my feet tremble as the big beasts belching white steam and black smoke rumbled down the track toward us. I moved closer to Grandpa. I love the sounds and the feel of the engines but they were a terribly awesome sight to me. As the train rumbled by a blast of steam enveloped us. It was like standing in a cloud.