It was summer again, and Margie and I were at Granny’s house in Healdton. We were going to stay a couple of weeks. I was about seven or eight years old, and Margie was nine or ten. Things never seemed to change there. Granny, the town, and the house stayed the same year after year.
We helped Granny in the garden and the orchard. She was canning grape jelly. She had grape vines growing on the fence with big, juicy, Concord grapes. They hung down in big clusters. Sometimes we crawled under them between the fence and the vines, and we lay under there and ate grapes.
It was real shady and cool under there. The chicken pen was right there, so we could watch them. There was one hen whose name was Old Crip. Granny called her that because she had one leg that got caught in the fence, and it crippled her.
All of the chickens were white. Granny said they were white Leghorns. They were for laying eggs but weren’t too good for cooking unless you killed them at a young age. She only had one rooster. He didn’t have a name. She just called him “that old rooster.”
We heard her calling us to come to the house, so we took off running to see what she wanted. We ran in the back door; she was standing over a hot stove.
She said, “I need you to help me now with this jelly.”
“What do we do, Granny?” I asked.
The grapes were on the stove cooking. They were boiling hot. She had another big pot sitting on a table near the stove. She had a big piece of cheesecloth that she was draping across the top of the empty pot.
“Margie, I want you to hold this cheesecloth in place on this pot,” she said. “I will dip the grapes out of the pot on the stove into the cheesecloth, just a few at a time. Then, I will gather up the ends of the cheesecloth and twist it until all the juice is out.”
“But, I don’t want to get burned, Granny,” Margie said. What a big sissy, I thought.
“Not if we are careful,” Granny said.
“I can do it, Granny,” I said. “’I’m not scared to do it.”
“I guess you can try, Ruthie, but you have to be real careful.”
“I will, Granny. I promise.”
I got my arms and hands around the top of the big pot. I was holding the cheesecloth as tight as I could. Granny dipped into the pot on the stove with a small pan then poured it into the cheesecloth. She set the pot down on the table and started gathering the cheesecloth. It was really hot. I could feel the heat on my arms and hands.
As soon as she had the cheesecloth, all gathered in her hands, she started to twist it tighter and tighter. The grape juice started to drain into the pot. When it was all squeezed out, she untwisted the cheesecloth and threw away the grape skins. Then we did it again and again until the pot on the stove was empty.
It took a long time, and it was not easy. I could tell it was burning Granny’s hands when she was twisting the cloth, but she never complained, not one time. It was kind of burning me a little, too, but I was not going to complain either. I wanted to do a good job for her.
We were finally finished, and she put the juice back on the stove in a smaller pot.
“You can go outside for a while. I will finish up,” she said.
“I can still help, Granny. I’m not tired yet.”
“I know, and you did a good job, Ruthie, but this part I have to do.”
So, Margie and I went back outside to play for a while. I was sitting on the bench under a big tree. I could hear the train coming in the distance. The engineer was blowing the whistle. I would have given anything to ride on that train. Three trains came by every day. We would stand at the fence and wave to the engineer. He would always wave back to us.
I would holler real loud, “Can I ride your train?”
“They can’t hear you, silly,” Margie would say.
“Well, maybe they can.”
“Even if they could, they won’t let you ride on that train.”
“You never know. Some day they might.”
We had been at Granny’s about a week, and I was at the fence every day waving at the engineer. Margie said I was crazy.
“They don’t even see you,” she said.
“Yes, they do! They wave back at me all the time.”
“You are so dumb,” she said.
But that didn’t stop me. I just kept right on waving. I would be out there for every train that went by. I would pray to God to let me ride that train. Margie didn’t know anything. I had known that for a long time.
The day finally came, and I was at the fence as usual. I could hear the train whistle blowing. It got closer and closer. Then I could see the front of the train. As soon as they were close enough to see me, I began to yell and wave at them.
“Please, let me ride your train!” I yelled. “Please, just one ride.”
I knew they couldn’t hear me, but I had to try.
The next thing I knew, the train was slowing down. The engineer was waving for me to come to the train. I was so surprised I could not move. I was frozen to that fence.
Then I realized that he was telling me I could ride the train. I took off out the gate and was running as fast as I could.
When I got close, I could hear him yelling, “You wanna ride little girl?”
Boy, did I ever want a ride! I had been waiting for a long time for this, and it was happening. I could not believe it!
“Yes, please, please, let me ride your train!”
“Give me your hand,” he said.
I reached up as far as I could on my tip toes, and he bent over, got my hand, and pulled me up. I was inside the engine of his train! I was so excited I could not talk!
“You can ride to town with us, but you will have to walk back home.”
“That’s all right. I can walk home.”
“I see you out by the fence every day waving and wanting to ride the train.”
“I know, and I can’t believe you finally stopped.”
“Well, it looked like you wanted this pretty bad.”
“Thank you, thank you, so much. I will never forget this.”
“You’re welcome, little girl.”
“My name is Ruthie.”
“You wanna blow the whistle, Ruthie?”
“I sure do, Mister Engineer,” I said.
He picked me up so I could reach the rope to blow the whistle. I just knew I was dreaming. I pulled the rope three times, and the whistle let everyone in town know the train was coming.
“That’s good,” he said.
I let go of the rope, and he put me down. I was looking out the train window and waving to everyone I saw. I wanted whole town to see me on the train, especially the kids.
When we got to town, the train stopped. I wasn’t ready to get off. I wanted to ride some more, but I knew it was over. That was okay though. I was the happiest kid in town. I finally got to ride on the train.
“Thank you, I will never forget this day,” I said.
“And neither will I, Ruthie.”
Then he reached in his pocket and gave me a whole quarter.
“Go get yourself some ice cream.”
“Oh, no, I can’t take that! My granny wouldn’t like it.”
“Yes, you can. I am the engineer, and I said you could.”
“Well, I guess I can then, and thank you.”
He helped me get down off the train and told me that he would be watching for me at the fence.
“Me, too, I will be watching every day ‘til I go home.”
I waved good -bye and started walking up the street to the drug store to get some ice cream. I was just walking on air. I was so happy I could hardly stand it. I thought that must be the best day of my life for sure.
In the drugstore, I order a chocolate cone. It cost one nickel. I still had twenty cents. I decided to save it so I could show off to Margie. I could hardly wait to get home to show her and Granny.
Oh, my gosh! Granny! I didn’t tell her I was leaving or where I was going! That was not allowed. We were always supposed to tell her where and when we left the yard. Oh, my gosh! I was in real trouble! Why did this always happen to me?
I ran out of the drugstore as fast as I could. I was on Main Street running towards the train tracks. I got to the tracks and still had a couple of blocks to go. I was going as fast as I could down the tracks. I tripped and fell on a board going across the tracks. Both of my knees were scratched up and bleeding a little bit. My left palm was cut, too. I didn’t stop though. I knew I was going to get it.
Maybe she hadn’t missed me yet. I was hoping, but I knew that Margie told her for sure. She liked it when I got into trouble. She would stand behind whoever happened to be spanking me and smile at me. Now, what kind of a sister would be that mean? Margie, that’s who.
I got to the front gate and ran inside. Granny was sitting at the kitchen table with Margie. I stopped and just stood there looking at her. I tried to read her face to see if she was really, really mad or just a little bit mad. I decided she was really, really mad. Darn it.
“Where have you been, young lady?”
“I’m sorry, Granny, but the train stopped and gave me a ride uptown.”
“Did I say you could take a train ride with perfect strangers?”
“No, ma’am. You did not.”
“Then, why did you do it?”
“It was my only chance to ride that train, Granny. I had to. I have been trying to get them to stop every day, and they finally did.”
“But you didn’t have time to ask me if it was okay?”
“No, ma’am, I didn’t. I had to hurry to get on before they left me behind.”
“You’re going to get a spanking, Ruthie.’
“But, Granny, I had to. That was my only chance to ride the train.”
“The spanking is not for getting on the train, Ruthie. It is because you got on that train with someone you don’t know. He could have carried you off to who knows where, and we would never have found you.”
“But I did know him. He is the engineer of the train.”
“What is his name?” she asked me.
“His name is Mister Engineer, I guess.”
“You see what I am saying, Ruthie. Your folks would never forgive me if something happened to you.”
“Yes, I understand, but I got to ride the train.”
“Are you deaf, Ruthie? Did you hear what I said?”
“No, ma’am. I am not deaf. I’ll go get the switch.”
I did understand what she was saying. I had done just what she said and never thought twice about it. I got so excited about the train that it never crossed my mind that I didn’t know this person. She was right. I had done a foolish thing, and I deserved a spanking.
Even though the engineer was a nice man, I didn’t know that when I ran out to ride the train.
And, to make matters worse I never even told Granny where I was going. She knew because Margie saw me leave and get on the train. She was right. I had a spanking coming, and I knew it.
I went out to the tree, got the switch, and walked slowly going back. I gave her the switch, and she gave me a pretty hard spanking. I jumped around and cried because it hurt. Margie was not smiling this time. She was worried about me, too. She loved me, I knew, but she hardly ever showed me that she did. She always thought I was a pain in the butt, and I guess I was, too. That was my one and only train ride, and I will never forget it.
Granny did not tell Mother and Daddy. I was glad she didn’t. Mother probably would have spanked me again. She used to tell us that if Granny had to spank us, we would get a worse one when we came home.
So there you have it, another day in the life of little Ruthie. A good lesson was learned from my Granny, and I never forgot it.