Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wheels of Memory

Among other forms of preparation, we spent an hour this afternoon at the library loading up on audio books for the coming journey. My approach to this is to go through the Juvenile audio book section and pick up anything that looks familiar to me which I haven't heard before, then spin through the adult section to pick up one or two things in case Mommy and Daddy actually get to listen to anything on their own. Since, unlike my more literarily omnivorous mother, I don't normally find myself reading juvenile novels these days, this means primarily pulling classics I've heard and haven't read (for me, a "classic" in regards to children's literature is something written before 1960) or more recent books that I read as a youth. This makes the collection rather thin on the stuff written in the last 15 years, but this is not necessarily a great lack.

Part way down the shelf, I found myself looking at a copy of The Railway Children -- I book I've actually never read, though we own a copy. I did see a BBC adaptation many years ago, which I seem to remember liking. The thing is, I really remember only one thing about it, other than the basic plot: Children and mother go to live in the country after father is accused of something or other and (unbeknownst to the children, who think he's traveling) thrown in prison. The children become fans of the railroad and the local station keeper, and eventually receive help in clearing their father.

What sticks strongly with me, however, is one detail. At the very beginning, on the night when men come to see their father about something going wrong at his business (and in the end take him away) the little boy in the family is working with his father on a new present: a working model steam locomotive. Something goes wrong with the locomotive, and it isn't fixed until near the very end (at which point the station master helps him fix it.)

The broken locomotive somehow seemed an incredibly powerful image of life interrupted by the unexpected. As I say, it's really the only scene I recall from the adaptation.

Perhaps the power of this image is its similarity to life experience from many years ago. When I was seven my youngest brother died of SIDS. It was the morning of Epiphany, and one of the small number of scenes I can recall with perfect clarity from that day was that I was playing with a toy car in the living room at the moment my mother went to wake the baby and found he had stopped breathing during the night. It was a science kit car, powered by a rubber band. Through its translucent plastic body you could see how, when you rolled the car backwards, the rubber band twisted tightly. Red wheels with black rubber treads gripped the floor, and little gears worked against each other to turn the untwisting of the rubber band into forward motion of the wheels.

In later days, I never could quite get that car to work. I'm not sure what happened to it. Life is not as neatly plotted as a children's novel, and oftentimes our greatest troubles are never solved. I seem to recall I always felt odd, later on, playing with it. It took up residence in a drawer and was later thrown away without much thought.

1 comment:

Barb said...

This reminds of the story my oldest brother, David, told me about when our second oldest brother died suddenly as an infant. David was only three years old but he had a vivid memory of standing next to the police officer that came to the house with the ambulance and all he could see was his police revolver right at eye level and he was so confused and scared..