Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings

By Paul Ruffin | Go to book overview

Trains

The Beginning of a Lifelong
Quest for Understanding

All through my first years of memory in the little hamlet of Millport, Alabama, where I was born, there were trains. Chuffing, blaring, clacking trains. Great black trains with billowing smoke and noise to wake the dead. Days and nights they ran through my head as I waited for them, timing by the sun if I timed at all—I knew when they were coming. I felt them before I heard, felt the earth tremble or the house, the faint shimmer of windows that nobody else seemed to notice, felt something as real as the drumming of my blood begin and swell, and then I could see the column of gray-black smoke by day, sometimes laid almost flat by speed and the wind, or from my bed see the slash of the headlight split the dark. And then the noise, the wonderful noise of that massive engine and its string of colorful cars.

I knew when it was going to stop in Millport and when it was blasting on through. I knew from the urgency of the tremor, from the sound of the engine as it drew closer to town, from the way the engineer blew his horn. Nights I didn’t care whether it stopped or not, because once I was in bed there was no leaving the house, but days I tore toward the tracks the instant I knew it was coming.

My grandparents’ house was two blocks south of the tracks, on the proper side—there was a planing mill on the other side—and three blocks west, along the street that ran parallel to the railroad, was the Cities Service station that my grandfather operated: a white building with green trim, two gas pumps, a grease ramp, and a rack of tires. My earliest recollections of Millport come from the service station: the smell of old tires and gasoline and oil, the clanging of tools, and the incredible food my grandfather cooked there. For years they lived in that building before the moved into the house.

But no matter what was happening at the station, when the train was due to arrive, night or day, my grandfather would roll away the tire he was

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Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur and Other Meanderings
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xii
  • Things Literary, More or Less 1
  • Travels with George in Search of Ben Hur 3
  • The Mosquito 15
  • The Lady with the Quick Simile 19
  • Workshopping a Cowboy Poem 22
  • Was Emily Mad or Merely Angry? 28
  • On the Death of Edgar Allan Poe 31
  • Making Preparations for the Tour 34
  • The Girl in the Clean, Well-Lighted Place 37
  • Explaining a Poem to a Student 40
  • Some Rare and Unusual Books 43
  • Tales from Kentucky Lawyers 45
  • The Boy Who Spoke in Hymns 48
  • Making a Dam in Segovia 51
  • Just Thinking about Shit 54
  • To San Juan and Back 60
  • On Likker and Guns 81
  • Drinking 83
  • Rats! 100
  • The Bowhunter Asks for My Bladder 117
  • The Day the Sharpshooter Killed Something He Didn’t Intend to 120
  • Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho, off to the Gun Show We Go … 128
  • From "Growing Up in Mississippi Poor and White but Not Quite Trash" (an as-Yet-Unpublished Memoir) 135
  • Trains 137
  • Learning about Sex 143
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