When you were a little kid was there ever a place that scared you? Maybe you’d never been there but the thought of it was frightening, kind of like the hospital or jail. My scary place was Texas.
Our family lived a couple blocks from multiple railroad tracks. Trains went by frequently, daily. Often empty cars were just left setting on unused tracks. When needed, an engine would switch over to those tracks and could be heard loudly coupling with an empty car then going on its way.
Our mother always told us to stay away from the railroad tracks because it was dangerous. And we were absolutely never to get inside one of the empty cars. She once said that if we got in an empty car and an engine hooked up to it, we might end up in Texas.
I had no idea where Texas was. At five I didn’t even know where downtown Brazil was. But Texas sounded like a scary place to me and I didn’t want to go there.
Back then neighborhood kids played together outside a lot. One favorite game was chalk rabbit. We divided up into two teams usually with four or five kids in each group. The first team took off on a meandering path throughout the neighborhood. They marked their trail using chalk to draw arrows on trees, bushes, the ground or whatever to show the direction they were going.
The second group had to wait about 10 minutes then tried to find the first team by following the chalk arrows. The goal was to catch up to them before they returned to the starting place. It was great fun and, of course, we always went over to the railroad tracks.
One time I was with my older brother, Bill, and he was the leader of the first team. He was about 12 and I was five. We started out by our front yard which was at the intersection of Jackson and Johnson Streets. Heading east on Jackson Street, we went through Lawson’s back yard, skirted around the Twigg’s factory and headed to the tracks.
We went under a flatbed car then came to an empty coal car. Coal cars slant down steeply at both ends going to the center floor which is flat with a trap door where the coal is dumped out.
Bill climbed up the ladder drawing an arrow on the side of the car. When he got inside he drew arrows down the east slant, across the flat part and up the west slant of the car. He then climbed out, went down the ladder and drew an arrow on that side of the car just before he hit the ground. The rest of us followed Bill and, being the smallest, I was last.
I did what I saw the other kids do. I ran hard up the slanted end to try to reach the top of the coal car and the ladder. But I was too little and couldn’t get to the top. I only got about two thirds of the way up and lost momentum and had to return to the bottom of the car. All the other kids were out and going down the ladder. I could hear them talking. I tried again to reach the top.
Again, I couldn’t make it. I tried over and over unsuccessfully. I yelled for Bill but got no response. Then I noticed it was silent. I couldn’t hear any of the kids anymore. I was all alone inside that empty coal car. I thought for sure an engine was going to hook up to it and I was going to end up in Texas. I thought I’d never see my family again. I was really scared and started crying. I didn’t want to go to Texas.
Then suddenly I heard a voice yelling my name. It was Bill. He had noticed I wasn’t with the group so he back tracked from the arrows until he found me. When he appeared at the top of the coal car, to me, he was a bigger hero than Superman or the Lone Ranger.
“What are you doing down there?” he asked, obviously annoyed. “What are you crying about?”
“I can’t get out, Bill,” I cried. “And I don’t want to go to Texas.”
“What are you talking about?” he snapped. “Give me your hand and let’s get out of here.”
I don’t think Bill felt like a hero. And he was scared too, but not of Texas.
“Don’t you tell Mother where we were,” he demanded. “If she finds out we’ll both be in big trouble.”
We got home safely. I didn’t tell. Bill is still one of my heroes. And I still don’t want to go to Texas.
Linda Messmer can be reached at 812-448-8725.