Limited Taxation
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Barbara's Column
May 2001 #4

The train whistle still calls

by Barbara Anderson

The Salem Evening News
Monday, May 30, 2001

Of course Jane Swift can do her job from western Massachusetts while caring for her newborn twins. Hey, I'm doing mine from western Pennsylvania while caring for my long-ago born mother!

It's not as far from Beacon Hill to Williamstown as it is from my office in Marblehead to where I am now: 524 miles of mostly monotonous open space, to be exact, and a few light years.

I know that some of you, who have spent your lives crowded along the ocean near the city, highly value forests, fields and farms; but I hate it when I push the advance button on my car radio and it runs quickly around the dial back to the station where it started.

Have to admit this is a pretty town, though, in the foothills of the Alleghenies, which are I think the foothills of the Adirondacks. Every time I make the trip I must relearn the correct way to drive a 4-cylinder car here: speed down the hill in order to make it to the top of the next one, while repeating the Little Engine's mantra: "I think I can, I know I can..."

I think I can stay here as long as my mother needs me. The first eighteen years were the hardest...

It was my parents' fault that I left so long ago. First, Mother sang me Irish lullabies, including "I'll take you home again, Kathleen." So from birth I thought home was Galway Bay and the first time I ran away to find it I was five.

Also, their first apartment, before Dad built our house, was near the railroad tracks. I'd hear that wayward whistle blow and long to hop the train to where it was going: Somewhere Else. Two weeks after graduating from high school, I left for Mexico, and then lived in New Jersey, Florida, California, and Greece before settling in Massachusetts.

Thomas Wolfe was wrong, though. You not only can go home again; if you are the only child of an elderly parent you pretty much must, eventually.

I sent my parents postcards, letters, and invitations to visit me; they rarely did. Dad talked about travel sometime, but I suspect my need to roam was not inherited. They seemed to know their place on earth, and kept it. While I looked elsewhere for mine, I can now appreciate the good things about  keeping the home in the hometown.

Whether Mother is in her apartment or the local rehab facility, she is surrounded by friends she went to school with and their children (my classmates, who are visiting their own parents or working as nurses). Many people of all ages still remember my parents dancing at the local clubs, chaperoning at the Youth Center, or in "their" pew at the back of the church, from which my father served as head usher.

The local cemetery is like "Grovers Corners" in Thornton Wilder's Our Town: "on a windy hilltop, lots of sky..." People I knew growing up wait there, like Emily, for "something that they feel is comin, something important and great," or visit on Memorial Day.

This year, I will be there too. For the first time it will be I, not just my cousins, who place the flowers at my father's, aunts' and grandparents' graves. I am glad of this opportunity to do that.

For one of the few times in the past thirty years, I won't be at the Marblehead Memorial Day parade, which small as it is, will be bigger than the one they're planning here. My partner Chip will grill a hamburger in our yard, while I eat one grilled by a childhood friend or cousin 524 miles away.

Then the next day I'll go back to work using the same technology that Governor Swift will be able to use in western Massachusetts as she cares for her family.

She'll be in her farmhouse with her children, and I'll be here in Mother's last apartment, which is a few yards away from the first one, across the railroad tracks - where the train whistle still calls in the middle of the night to the wanderer in my soul.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.

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