Sunday, June 13, 2021

Life & Style

Long Train Running

The sound rolls over the flat marsh and between the reeds. It’s low and long and gently pulls me from a deep sleep. I yawn and stretch. Flop my feet over the side of the bed. I hear it again. It’s the sound of a train horn and it accompanies me as I walk into the kitchen to make coffee. Morning on the shoreline.

There are sounds here that bring me back to childhood like an emotional Acela Express. The train horn is one. They’re working on the tracks so the trains are blowing their horns more often. I love this sound. I’ve always lived near train tracks and associate the sound of trains with my young, overactive imagination. As a kid I had fantasies of Orient Express adventures, of rail-line romances. I daydreamed of vagabond living, hopping from car to car and going wherever the tracks cared to take me.

There was only one time in my childhood when the sound of a train was more terrifying than tranquil. It was the summer the train came right through my room.

Well, at least it sounded like it was coming right through my room. When my family moved back to New Jersey from Massachusetts the summer I was eight, we stayed in my grandfather’s house until school began. The house was on the banks of the Delaware River and the tracks were up a small hill behind it. During the night the freighters would rumble by, waking everyone up. My room was at the back, so I was closest to the trains.

The first night there, I woke to the house-shaking roar of the gigantic engine, followed by what seemed like 50 cars full of anvils, racing down the track, ready to careen over the side of the embankment and land on top of me. I remember sitting bolt upright and maybe I cried out something guttural in my half-sleep, something that sounded like, “Whaahhhuuunnnnhhh?!!?”

If I did, no one heard me.

If anyone else in my family cried out something like, “Whaahhhuuunnnnhhh?!!?” I didn’t hear them, either.

In the morning we all shuffled into the kitchen, groggy and still unnerved. “I hate trains,” I grumbled.

This was short-lived, however. I soon became used to the sound of the train and slept through its passing for the rest of the summer. During the day it would go by and I’d stop what I was doing to shout, “Hi, Train!” and wave.

We’d stay in that little house every summer. Our main house ended up being right next to another set of train tracks. On those tracks the little train, appropriately named “The Dinky,” brought people from Princeton Junction Station to Princeton’s downtown. My friends and I would play a game where you couldn’t touch anything green as the Dinky went by. Not easy to do when running around all day on each other’s lawns or mucking about in the algae-ridden pond down the street.

Trains have always been near and dear, as near and dear as water. I can’t imagine living away from a body of water, nor can I imagine living anywhere where I don’t hear the sound of a train in those quiet moments when the wind blows just right. I can’t imagine not taking a moment to wonder about the people on the train. Where are they going? Where are they coming from? Then I wonder, where would I like to go? I still daydream of rail-line adventures.

At the end of the day here on the shoreline everything sighs to a stop. The ground outside is covered in a dark blanket and even the sky refuses to shine its stars. I wash up, brush my teeth, and shamble toward the bedroom. Turn off the lights. Pull up the blankets. The train horn bids me a long, slow farewell until morning.

Juliana Gribbins is a writer who believes that absurdity is the spice of life. Her book Date Expectations is winner of the 2017 Independent Press Awards, Humor Category and winner of the 2016 IPPY silver medal for humor. Write to her at Read more of her columns at

Juliana Gribbins is the Columnist for Zip06. Email Juliana at .

Reader Comments