I was in a bit of a hurry to get home after babysitting that particular late afternoon. I came up over the rise heading for the railroad crossing near our home and saw them – the flashing lights and crossing arms slowly descending to let drivers know a train was approaching. Drat! I sure didn’t want to sit there for ten minutes for some hundred car train to go by, but I had no choice. I crawled up as far as I could go without actually being on the tracks and put the car in park. Sigh. Okay, train where are you? While I waited my mind drifted to the mindless things I had to do at home and the train came on while I was in this ‘other place.’
But, you know, something arrested my attention. An odd looking car, brightly colored, zipped by and then another and another. Decorated cars, pink and green, little fancy patterns, a clown face – and suddenly it dawned on me. This was a circus train! Oh, my stars. In all the many years I’d sat waiting for trains at that crossing I’d never seen the likes. I couldn’t look hard enough and then it was gone. A circus train – so awesome to see and so fleeting.
Last summer I took two of my granddaughters to our local park – Volunteer Park – only a mile or so from that railroad crossing. They played on the swings and slid down the slide as I watched, letting the breeze ruffle my hair and looking off into the pleasant blue skies. Then I noticed a small area set aside near the ball field that occupies one corner of the park. “Let’s walk over there, “I said to the girls. They were happy enough to trot alongside me and soon we were there. This precious little spot had been standing for a while and I’d never gone near enough to notice the tiles. Tiles on a vertical wall with the names of people who died on 9/11. The Girl Scouts labored to make them and someone had set them in stone. Beautiful little things with hearts, flowers, short prayers. I touched them lightly. My girls ran off to play in the nearby gazebo and I stood there transfixed by a memorial that I’d hardly paid any attention to until that moment. Choking back tears I vowed to remember – always.
Yesterday Opie’s dad died. I heard a rumor they buried him in Mount Pilot, but I don’t think that’s true. Sheriff Andy Taylor is surely staying in his beloved Mayberry. What would Aunt Bea think for heaven's sake? Barney and Gomer wouldn’t like it much either. Rest in Peace Andy Griffith. Your wise words, calm manner, and abiding faith made us consider what life could really be like if only we put our hearts into it.
This afternoon we’re going to Kinderhook Lake to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends. Kids, hot dogs and hamburgers, swimming. I’m baking two pies and bringing homemade ketchup, dilly beans and a thing or two I haven’t thought of yet. We’ll stay until the fireworks are over and go home to watch the PBS 4th of July special from the nation’s capitol. I’ll think of Dad loving the 4th and how my sister and her husband are carrying on his tradition of a honking big party at their home in California. Maybe I’ll belt out Yankee Doodle Dandy in his honor, too. Dad loved George M. Cohen.
I hope some meaningful random thoughts attend you today, too, as you think about what it means to be an American.
Happy Birthday America, God Bless