Distance Never Moves

Author: GR Oliver

Taking my family to a small town similar to the one I grew up, I experienced time flies and distance never moves.

On Sundays, I took my family on a ride, hopefully some place where we’ve never seen before. I wanted them to see a little bit of what I didn’t see when I was young. We never went anywhere. My parents were concerned with making a living and putting food in our mouths. This was after WW2.

That Sunday morning, I thought it would be a great idea to show my family where I grew up. I hadn’t been to my hometown since the ’50s, some thirty years ago at that time. On our way to where I grew up, we ventured across a small town�stark, forlorn leaving a sepia impression in my mind. It reminded me of my hometown where I grew up. It was a train stop, where farmers brought their goods to market, a one-horse town you might say. The railroad divided the town. On one side of the tracks was the civic center, and on the other side, houses cropped up here and there between oak and ash trees. The ground was all in sepia tones�dried brush�it was late autumn. Some of the houses looked empty. They too didn’t look fresh white painted, but sepia tone from age and neglect. It looked like the little town stood still and artificial as if it were a photograph taken for a postcard.

The tracks in this old town were an endless straight line going right out of sight, seeming to go nowhere, but into my mind of years gone by. They were old, rusty, worn, and hadn’t been tread on for years. The spikes tying down the rails to the timbers were partly loose. What adventures had they brought? What people did they bring? What cargo did they haul? But no more did it see trains. Crows and kids now play on the ties and rails, and I saw a lonely lizard scurry across the gravel-stones and coming to rest on the rail before going on. It seemed a long time since they had felt the vibration from a locomotive going into an endless vanishing point that didn’t move. Why is it that distance never moves? It seemed that this little town didn’t move out of the past either. Did it crumble to a fate like so many�big industry taking over, bypassing it for better and cheaper returns. The town looked unproductive. I wondered how many farmers still farmed the land.

After parking the car by the railroad tracks, we walked into town. The town was a magnet for curio and antique hunters. At one time, many would call old stuff junk, but how things have changed. We walked around the town, looked in the shops, and mused over the archaic look of the turn-of-the-century buildings. I don’t think anything had changed since the ’20s. Stopping at the local ice cream parlor, we had our favorites. Many came in and had theirs too; it was a hot day. The children ordered sodas, a strawberry and a chocolate. I had to have my favorite, three scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate syrup poured over the top with gobs of whipped cream covering the whole heavenly concoction. My wife says eating ice cream is sinful. She likes sorbets and sherbets. She had kiwi sorbet.

We returned to our car, it was late, the town held our imagination�a place that never seem to move, but lingering somewhere in the past. And again, I looked upon those tracks merging into a distant point, and wondered again, would I ever return to a place I had left earlier in my life. Whenever I took the train, I never returned to the place I once lived�it seemed to be my destiny. And again, this seemed to be true; I never showed my family where I grew up.

Gazing down the track to a distant point always fascinated me as a kid�distant images never move, but always there, stationery forever it seemed. No matter how fast you were going, that point never wavered or moved. It always was in the distance out of reach and forever ahead. You couldn’t go fast enough to reach that distant point. But all of a sudden, an image appeared and you were there�sometimes passing it, sometimes stopping. When I was a kid and lived in Chicago, we took the train everywhere. I always looked forward to stopping at the next depot. It gave a rest to my eyes and something new to gaze upon away from the motion of near images and distant stillness. People going, people coming at the train station, all looked different from the people from where I came from�some happy, some sad, some looked worried, some angry, some laughing. I always looked upon it as an adventure�something to look forward too.

The first time I became aware of time and motion was when I was seven. We were going from Chicago to Los Angeles. This was during WW2. Dad was transferred from Chicago to LA by his company to head the accounting department and he took the chance to get out of the cold and dampness that seemed ever-present around Lake Michigan. He hated the Great Lakes weather. He liked the dryness of the West, and the always-warm weather. I looked forward to cowboys and Indians. I told my friends in Chicago, I was going to ride a horse to school, and round up cattle on weekends, and maybe tame a wild Indian or two. They were so envious. The war was not on my mind, only cowboys and Indians, horses and cattle, distant prairies and cactus, coyotes and buffalo, mountains and tall timber. I was going to live the life of Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry. Little did I know, LA was no different from Chicago�a big city filled with exhaust, industrial pollution, and rambling with people scurrying to and from the work place.

As we traveled across the great western plane toward LA, Dad liked to sit in the club car. He liked sitting and gabbing with the people over a glass of bourbon on the rocks and having a cigarette or two. He smoked Old Gold. I enjoyed looking out the back window watching the tracks reach out to nowhere, where whence we had left�a town shrinks out of vision and blurs out of awareness�a passing crossroad dissolves into the landscape�a distant tractor plows the field seeming never to move�the clickity-clack of the gaps in the tracks lulling me to sleep. These images stuck in my mind forever.

I don’t know how tracks are these days. No one ever rides the train anymore; they take airplanes, tour buses, and pleasure boats. Maybe in the East, they still take the train, but not out West. The car replaced the train. The next time I took the train, I was inducted into Uncle Sam’s service to defend our country again the big red scare. The train brought me into that distant unknown point keeping me in limbo until I returned. Sometimes I feel I’m still in that state and wish I could return to a home I once knew. But never again will that take place. That distant point was forever.

I looked again at the sepia tone image of the vanishing railroad tracks. Why is it distance never moves? And, time whips by faster than you can blink an eye?