Illness can be callous at times. Old feelings surface with a vengeance. The most difficult challenge in one’s debilitation is to accept the things you can no longer do. Instinct cruelly remembers: that forest now too foreboding to enter, the lost scent of swift water over mossy rocks, wildflowers out of reach and dangling from the rounded earth, lyrics of songs burning just beyond the brink of recall – destinations insurmountable.
So often my memories fall short of bringing back moments spent with our three children. Snippets taunt from picture albums and family stories retold, emotions and sensations lost with time; the way they smelled in fresh pajamas after evening baths, the rich reward of hugs and butterfly kisses, eavesdropping on their innocent play and heartwarming giggles, their delight with simple things at Christmastime, and the wealth of feeding their hungry curiosity.
As I cleaned out a storage closet, I came across a musty cardboard box containing papers and artwork I’d saved from their grade school days. There were touching poems and writings to Mom and Dad. My face suddenly warm with tears, I paused in the moment of discovery…treasures like pressed flowers and other pale mementos soften the disenchantment of senior years.
A few black and white photographs, scattered at the bottom of the box, unearthed vivid images from the late sixties and early seventies when our family lived on a busy corner in Lewiston, the last house before downtown, and across Main Street from the railroad crossing. Tending our three small children and being a daycare provider, as well, was a challenge in such a precarious location.
Bright red Big Wheels rumbled up and down coarse concrete sidewalks until their black plastic wheels were worn to shreds. There were few toys back then, but our living quarters were strewn with those the children willingly shared. What! No electronic gadgets? The day would begin with Captain Kangaroo on TV. We spent hours playing outside in all seasons. There were always fresh-baked cookies on the kitchen table. I rocked many children during naptime, while my ennui was appeased by temporarily getting lost in a sappy soap opera.
Not all memories are warm and fuzzy of course. The railroad crossing was nearly the death of our youngest. Joel was about six. He was waiting for an oncoming train when my mother pulled up in her car. As Joel focused on greeting her he kept edging closer to the tracks until his bicycle tire rested on the rails. Frantically, she motioned for him to move back. As she told me about it later, I could just picture my carefree, lovable little boy casually waving and smiling at grandma. As the train whistle shattered balmy summer air, he moved back in the nick of time. I still shudder to think about it.
That railroad crossing severed downtown from the residential area where I grew up. It was where my dad Lawrence Lewis could be seen every morning at 11:30 as he briskly walked home for lunch from his butcher counter at Nussloch’s Grocery on Main. When we weren’t in school, we kids kept an eye out for him, running to the kitchen to alert Mother that he was across the tracks, two blocks away.
One of us girls would set the table. If there was gravy to be made, it was time for Mom to stir in the thickening. Our big meal was always at noon and we called it “dinner.” Since Dad took only half an hour, we had everything served up and steaming on the turquoise dinette set in the kitchen. I recall that the first meal Pat had at our house was boiled potatoes, pork hocks and sauerkraut, which we all devoured. He thought the meal was as strange as our family, but he stuck it out.
With life’s one-way ticket, there’s no going back. Sharing old family stories and photograph albums with our three grandchildren has taken us full circle…as a train whistle in the distance fades farther and farther away.
Janet Burns has lived in Lewiston all of her 64 years. She can be reached at