Two lessons learned during my memorable childhood in Dunsmuir

Submitted by Marilyn E. White

I was 3, nearly 6, when I thought my dad was lost on the train. He was scheduled to bring the Shasta Daylight, #10 in one Sunday afternoon. That schedule business didn’t happen very often, because he didn’t have the seniority to work the “good” jobs, but by luck, he caught the passenger train trip home that day. And had a scheduled time to come home.

Marilyn White of Medford, Ore. writes about her memorable childhood in Dunsmuir.

My mother helped me cross the street and helped me walk the three long blocks (which seemed like long blocks at the time) to the depot to wait for him to come in. She told me exactly where to sit and to stay there. Not having a lick of sense, I did just the opposite.  I was just a kid, though. What did she expect?

After all, there was so much to hold a child’s attention. Like the smell of Chinese food from Motto’s across the street. I could smell soggy chow mein smothered in “bug” juice, just as I had had the time my mom was called for jury duty and it was up to dad to feed us. Boy, did I learn to love jury duty, because my mom seemed to be on a limited Rolodex and was called many times in my youth. I loved Chinese food from then on, but none has ever seemed so satisfying as Motto’s soggy chow mein. Also, there was the big circular fountain with huge trout swimming in it. Talk about an entertainment committee! Those trout were gifted with entertainment for a small child! My mother didn’t give me coins to throw in the fountain, so I looked for rocks and added my contribution and watched them settle to the turquoise bottom of the home of the circulating fish.  Didn’t they get dizzy? They swam round and round.  I never thought that they might all be brain damaged from non-floatable stuff thrown by little kids like me hitting them in the head. Now, I know better.  Lol.  Plus, there was the decorative pipe railings that surrounded the landscaping of the park-like setting of the depot grounds. They begged to be adorned with climbing and hanging children performing acrobatic feats while waiting for the train. And the slopes! I loved to do somersaults down the grassy slopes that ended abruptly onto the train platform. You had to be careful that you didn’t end abruptly on the asphalt yourself. Somehow, you didn't have to worry about dog poop there. It seemed to be a dog-poop-free zone. And those stairs that let down from the terrace to the flat train tracks! I could amuse myself for an extended period of time on them and as it turned out, that day, I did.

Time passed. A lot of time! It seemed like hours to a child’s fragile timeframe. The train was late. My mother got worried and came down to the depot to get me and take me home, but I wasn’t where she told me to stay, was I? Oops! I was sitting on the bottom stair of the staircase, out of sight from the road, just having finished an imaginary game of “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” all by myself. Did I mention that I have an elephantine imagination? Well, it keeps on growing day by day, as you can tell. But with the stairs being there ... they just leant themselves to the game that I had played lots of times, but not usually by myself. That’s what made me so preoccupied and kept me invisible from the road. 

Anyway, after what seemed like forever, a familiar member of the crew dispatcher’s office, Charlie Taylor came out and found me, thanks to my mother’s worried call for help. I cried and cried, thinking that my dad was lost, not realizing that the train had nowhere else to go but right through there. When it finally did come, I was so relieved that my dad was OK. I was especially pleased when I saw his face light up when he saw me. So, after he “tied up," we went home to a Sunday fried chicken dinner with smashed potatoes, gravy and peas and probably peach cobbler. My mom made world-class cobbler.

I learned two things that day. To stay put  where I was told to stay!  And to thank God for the Southern Pacific Railroad for delivering my dad home safe and sound that day and every day after that. And I would also thank Him many, many times since for my memorable childhood on the streets of Dunsmuir.