The Railroad Track and the Drunk

Front Page, Personal History

     It was summer.  My sister Margie, our cousin Rosie, and I were at my granny’s house in Healdton, Oklahoma.  I had promised my mother that I would be good and not give Granny any trouble.  I just hated making that promise because it was really hard to keep.  What if something good came up?  What if it was something I knew I would have to do no matter what or who I had promised?  This could be a very hard promise to keep.

     Granny had promised us that we could go to a late night preview at the theater uptown.  I was amazed that she said we could go because it didn’t start until 10:00 p.m.  We had to get all of our chores done before we could go though.  We were all excited about it, and I just knew that she was going to change her mind.  Margie and Rosie had been saying all day that I was too little, and I should not get to go.  Margie was twelve, and Rosie was eleven.  Big deal!

     I knew they each had a boyfriend.  That was really why they didn’t want me to go because they weren’t allowed to have boyfriends at their ages.  I knew who they were, too, the Gray brothers, Richard and Robert.  Yuck!  They were both tall and very skinny, and they had pimples all over their faces.  It made me sick to look at them.  They knew I would tell Granny if they kissed their boyfriends.  Yep, I sure would do whatever it took to get them in trouble.

     We had finished all our work, and Granny fixed cornbread and buttermilk for supper.  It was really good.  We had this a lot in the summer. Granny said it was too hot to cook anything else, and the buttermilk was good and cold.  I wished we could have had it at home more often. We lived in Oklahoma City, and I never saw anyone eat cornbread and buttermilk except my daddy and me.  Margie and Rosie didn’t like it too much, but then hey didn’t like much of anything.

     After supper, Granny said we had to wash up before we could go anywhere.  We had to heat water on the kitchen stove for baths.  Granny poured boiling water in a big, round tub; then she put cold water in to cool it off a little.  We all bathed in the same water.  It was too much work to boil more water and waste more gas for each person.  And guess what?  We went by age, so prissy pants Margie got to be first.  Rosie went next, and you can guess who had to go last.  That would be me.  Granny used Ivory Soap, and it smelled good.  I wish I was older and got to be first sometime.

     We were finally ready to go.  Granny was going to walk us to town, but we said she didn’t have to.  She walked us to town anyway, all the way up the tracks and right to the front of the theater.  It didn’t matter to me, but Margie and Rosie were pretty upset because their boyfriends saw us.  It was great for me!  A couple of dozen kids were there and waiting in line.  Granny left, and we got in line.

     It was quite a while before we finally got into the theater.  We made it though, and we stopped at the concession stand to get cokes and popcorn.  In those days, there were short cokes and tall cokes.  Short was a nickel and tall was a dime.  Candy bars were a nickel.  Popcorn was a dime.  You could go to the movies with a dollar, pay a dime to get in, and you still had ninety cents to eat and get sick on.

     We found a seat and waited for the movie to start.  Every kid in town was there, probably a hundred kids.  It got loud with all the talking, screaming, and fighting.  It was great!  The movie finally began.  It was a western, and Gene Autry was there, not the real Gene Autry, but a kid who thought he was Gene Autry.  I guess he was what we call mentally challenged these days.  He was really a nice kid unless someone called him by his real name instead of Gene Autry.  Then he would get real mad, and his face would get bright red.  When that happened, it was time to make your exit!

     We are just sitting there watching the movie when I heard this familiar voice.  It was Granny. She was coming down the aisle calling out our names, and the next thing I knew she was at the end of our row of seats.  She was saying it was time to go.  Of course, all the other kids were laughing.  What else could we do?  We got up and followed her out of the theater.

     When we got outside, I asked, “Why do we have to go?  The movie’s not over.”

     She said, “It’s time for you to go.”

     I asked, “But what did we do?”

     She said, “Who ever heard of a movie lasting this long?”

    I said, “But, Granny, they are an hour and a half long, and it was not over.  We missed the end.”         Margie and Rosie were not saying anything.  I guess they didn’t want to get smacked.  I guess I did because she smacked me good on my arm.

     I decided to shut up; she wouldn’t change her mind, and it was too late by then.  Boy, was I mad!  I was so mad I was about to blow up!  Why did she do that?  What was wrong with her?  I promised myself I would never go back to her house in the summer.  But, I did.

     Soon we were on the tracks walking home.  Granny had the flashlight on so we could see.  I saw something on the track ahead of us, but I couldn’t make out what it was.  We got closer, and I could see it was a man.  He was asleep on the tracks.

     I said to Granny, “We better wake him up, or he might get run over by a train.”

     Granny said, “He is drunk.  If he gets run over, he will deserve it.”

     I was stunned to hear her say that.  My own daddy was a drinker, and this could happen to him.  I tried to tell her that we should help him, but she wouldn’t listen.  We just kept walking as she pulled me along by the hand.

     I begged, “Please, Granny, let’s go back and help him.”

     She said nothing.  She just kept walking.  Margie and Rosie didn’t say anything either.  They knew it would do no good.  Granny could be so mean sometimes.

     When we got home, we washed our faces and hands because we weren’t allowed in Granny’s bed with dirty faces and hands.  We had to wash our feet, too, in a little bucket in the kitchen.  We all crawled into Granny’s bed and began whispering about the man on the tracks.

     Granny said, “Be quiet and go to sleep.”

     I waited for a long time until I thought Granny was asleep.  Then, I woke up Margie and Rosie.       “I am going to sneak out the back door and go pull the man off the tracks,” I whispered.

     They said, “No, you will get in real trouble with Granny if you do.”

     I begged them to go with me, and I knew I could not move him alone.  Besides, I was a little bit scared he would wake up.

     They finally agreed, and we got out of bed one at a time, trying to be real quiet so Granny would not hear us.  Once we were out of the front gate, we took off running as fast as we could.  We ran as fast as we could to the end of the road and up the hill to the tracks.  We slowed down as we got close to the man because I think we got scared he would wake up.  He was still asleep and snoring.  We all three got behind him and gave him a big push.  He was not very heavy, so it was easy to push him off the tracks and down the hill to the ditch.  He sort of  rolled down the hill without our help.

     We just stood there looking down at him when Margie said, “We better get home before Granny knows we are gone.”

     We started running back down the tracks and down the hill when we came to the front gate.  Then, we tiptoed around the house and to the back porch, went in the back screen door, and got into bed.  We were so tired we didn’t even talk about it.  We just fell asleep.

     We talked about it the next day, and we ran up there to find the man gone.  I felt good about what we did, and I think Margie and Rosie did, too.  I asked Granny if she thought the man got run over by the train.

     “No, and I wouldn’t worry about him anyway.  He’s just an old drunk.”

     I thought that was a mean thing to say.  We never talked about it again.  So there you have it.  Another day in the life of little Ruthie.

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Janice Sautter is a great great grandmother who spends her time writing, painting, drawing, and playing video games. She lives with her husband Jim and their two dogs, Daisy and Lilly. She writes under the name of J. R. Carter.