Updated: Oct 22, 2019
Symbol of a community. Metaphor for much more than that.
If you've spent much time in Amory, Mississippi, you've done this more times than you care to remember: idled at a railroad crossing, anxiously watched the time, stared at the rail cars motionless and blocking your path, fought frustration with the slow creep of the train when it finally decided to move along. If you haven't done it here, then I venture to guess many of you have done it elsewhere. You've gripped the steering wheel of your vehicle, hoping that if you glare hard enough or threaten to turn around enough times in your mind, you can somehow will the train to move along more quickly on its journey so you can continue yours.
Perhaps we accept it more in Amory than other places, simply because we know we would not be here, in this place, without the railroad. You see, Amory exists for one reason—because it was the midpoint between Memphis and Birmingham. Locomotives, like the one immortalized in Amory's Frisco Park, needed a place to rest and await their next assignment, and so in 1887, a stopping point became a town. A proud, thriving town that today celebrates its first lifeblood with an annual Railroad Festival, multiplying in size by five-fold for one weekend each year. But this post is not intended as a history lesson.
I mention our town's history only as a backdrop for the thoughts formed one day as I waited at one of our railroad crossings. As I watched impatiently while one of our trains started from a standstill, then picked up the pace until each car raced on by, I suddenly saw the years of my life passing before me. I recalled how, as a child, each year was its own eternity, with me "wishing my life away," as my mother liked to say. I yearned for Santa Claus to hurry up with the toys, for thirteen to fill me with worldly wisdom like the other teenagers I idolized, for graduation to grant me independence. Then, for a decade or two, time passed with scarcely a notice. Then something changed.
One day—no, many days—I realized I wasn't quite as limber, or strong, or fast as I had been at eighteen. I saw my kids born and grow and prepare to leave and realized that yes, the train was moving after all. I began to see the caboose of more and more friends and loved ones and patients and realized that my own cars—my years—were flying by faster and faster. If your train hasn't hit that speed yet, trust me, it is quite a jolt.
But like it or not, such is the nature of things. Even though I still consider myself a young man, I have seen enough to acknowledge I don't know how many rail cars are around the bend. Thankfully, I'm no longer alarmed by it. I am learning to be much more content to sit and watch the train. It will pass soon enough.
There! It is alive! Subtle stirrings, first turns
Of steely wheels come to life, burgeoning sounds
Of new motion, anticipation, begetting yearns
For haste, O hurry! As a fox ‘fore the hounds!
Too slowly growing in momentum and speed,
No, never enough, not enough, why so slow?
Languid one then the next, each planting the seed
Of wonder - how many, how fast will it go?
Counted as they pass, crawl to five, rush to twenty,
A dozen more seem the same, rolling by faster,
More hidden ‘round the bend, but surely too plenty
For the deadlines of time, always the master.
Warm sun, lulling rhythms, yet hastening pace,
Now what’s that? Sudden content, less distraction?
Why the rush, might it slow? Why always a race?
The finale soon enough, impatience redaction.
But there it must lurk, down the tracks, out of sight,
Its harbingers fleeting, too swift, specks on wind,
Get ready, ready to cross, and pray for delight
When the caboose races by, there at the end.
- W.D. McComb