Posted by: Calmseas (Mike) | February 9, 2013

The Train Of Life

This train called “Life” hurtles down the tracks toward us.  It slows to a crawl, we jump aboard, and it then picks up steam and continues on at full tilt.

We are welcomed by many fellow travelers as we board.  Along the way, passengers get on, others get off.  We get to know many of them quite well as we journey together.  But all too soon, and all too often, we find ourselves bidding farewell to a beloved fellow sojourner.  Sometimes, we may not even have the chance to say a proper goodbye.  We may simply happen to glance out the window as the train leaves the station and catch a glimpse of a long-time traveling companion, standing alone on the platform, waving goodbye.

ImageOne of the passengers on my train stepped off onto the station platform last week.  Russell Page, my great uncle, was one of those people who was larger-than-life, a presence with which to be reckoned.  From my earliest memories, Uncle Russell and Aunt Virginia were a part of my life.  But our relationship was at a distance because they lived several hundred miles away along the east coast.  So it was always something special when Uncle Russell and Aunt Virginia came for a visit.  We would typically have a small family reunion.  The Michigan contingent of the family would gather for a picnic, or go out to eat at a restaurant, or gather on someone’s deck or patio and enjoy one another’s company around the grill.  It was always a fun, festive time.

My Uncle Russell was born in Washburn, Wisconsin, in 1917.  He was my Grandmother’s younger brother.  The family moved to western Michigan at some point, and eventually my Uncle married a southern gal, my Aunt Virginia, and made his home in the state of Virginia.  Now firmly planted in the south, he and his bride raised a family, one son and one daughter, and he eventually saw two grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren enter his world.  The south was a great fit for him because, among other things, it was home to NASCAR racing, and Uncle Russell loved the world of NASCAR.  He was a part of Junie Donlavey’s #90 racing team for a number of years, and he knew his way around probably every racetrack in the south.  The stories he told would often include colorful tales straight from the racetrack.

Uncle Russell was not only a great storyteller, but also a great jokester, often weaving his sense of humor into his stories.  It was sometimes hard to tell when he was kidding around and when he was serious.  He was usually both at once.  I’m sure I got a lot of my own joking ways from him.  Even into his 90s, it was hard for me to keep up with him when he got on a roll.  I had to be quick on my toes to provide an adequate retort to his one-liners and zingers.  Sometimes, I just stood there, speechless; when I did reply, my comment would often be wholly inadequate.  He was that good!  At my grandmother’s funeral a little more than a year ago, Uncle Russell arrived for the visitation, I said hello to him, and we walked together toward the casket.  He walked slowly, relying on his wooden cane for a little support now and then, his face quite stoic.  As we neared the casket, he quietly and in all seriousness said, “OK.  You can get on up out of there now.”  That was vintage Uncle Russell!  It was humorous, it was serious, and it was just the right thing to say at the time.  For him, it was a way to deal with great grief; for me it was a comfort to know in those few words just how much his sister, my grandmother, meant to him, how much she was loved by all, and how much she would be missed. His words were double-edged: They were a coping mechanism for him; but they were also meant as a comfort for me, I believe.

One of my earliest memories includes Uncle Russell.  It is from a trip to Mackinac Island when I was a very young child.  I remember riding around the island in a basket suspended from the handlebars of a bicycle.  This was back in the late 1950s when such things, I’m sure, would have been quite common.  As I recall, my mother was pedaling the bike, and I distinctly remember arriving at Arch Rock, one of the major landmarks on the island.  From there, I honestly don’t remember much, but I am told that I somehow tumbled down the side of the steep embankment, through the middle of the arch, and landed at the bottom of the hill.  Uncle Russell, who was along for this trip, leaped into action, and without hesitation scurried down the hillside and retrieved little old me.  He saved the day!

Uncle Russell would never miss an opportunity to call me “cue-ball.”  He gave me the name because, having no hair as a young child, I resembled a cue-ball.  As I got older, I sported a “butch” haircut, and it wasn’t until later elementary school that I started to grow my hair out a bit.  So cue-ball was very fitting.  He continued to call me the cue-ball up until the last time I saw him back in 2011.  Now that I’ve come full circle, and no longer have much hair to display, the name cue-ball is as fitting as it ever was.  Uncle Russell surely would find humor in the cue-ball once again living up to his name.

Uncle Russell waved goodbye from the station platform last week, one of many loved ones to do so in my 56 years on this earth.  There is great comfort in knowing that he is now at peace, at rest, in his eternal home.

Time, which knows no constraints of man, passes unchecked.  The train of “Life” rumbles down the track, seemingly faster and faster coming out of each station stop.  Even so, the stops themselves are becoming more frequent.  One by one, well-worn travelers exit the the train, and we are left with empty seats where once a dear fellow traveler sat, where—if we should have our way—he or she should still be sitting.  The great consolation, if there is one, is that we pick up new passengers along the way, passengers who in time will mean as much to us as those who we leave at stations along the way.  And one day, those passengers will bid us farewell.  For eventually the train pulls into our appointed station and stops just long enough for us to step off onto the platform, the platform of the station marked “Eternity.”  And then the train continues on.

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