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The Great Train Accident

by Norman A. Rubin

It was that quiet day in the summer of ’36 when the news of the train accident at the crossroads to our town ran through the lips of the many denizens of our house. News of this sort was of great excitement as there were hardly any momentous events in the locality to disturb the good members of our family.

The tidings were also of worry, as our grandpaw planned to be on that very train, the early commuter run to our town. He was returning from a trip to the big city, where he had spent a couple of days on his so-called business, but we knew that he had health problems and his visits were checkups by medical practitioners.

We never questioned his trips, but his longer stays at the big city also meant a couple of day's sojourn at a medical center, and again we did not question it. That was the way with our large family.

The hard years were behind us, as a new president had been elected and he came into office with the promise of better times, which he started to realize. I remembered those days when I was a freckle-faced lad of fourteen that was more fond of the bat and ball than of books.

My dad had left the rolls of the unemployed and had found steady work in his skill at a nearby government project. He earned good money for those days, and our family was considered fortunate. Yep, times were getting better.

Our family had proper names, but we called grandfather by the name of grandpaw or grandpa, and we also called grandmother simply grandmaw or grandma. Sure we had the family name of Tyler, and to our neighbors our mom and dad were Mr. and Mrs. Tyler and we, their children were referred to by our proper first names; but the elders of the family were known to all as grandpaw and grandmaw.

The whole family, kith and kin lived in grandpaw's house, a three-storied wooden monstrosity of tacked-on storied appendages. Despite its looks, the dwelling offered shelter and comfort. It had been divided, more or less, into individual apartments with kitchen and toilet facilities on each floor. The house was quite roomy, and many a time relatives in need found secure lodging for themselves and their families.

Grandpa and grandma liked the first floor, as it looked out to the fertile plains and the growing town. Grandpaw would like to settle his lanky frame onto the rocker and with rheumy gray eyes search through the large picture window in his parlor. At times his craggy features would be humorous, as he would spot an unusual happening.

Grandmaw, in turn, was wise in her elder years, and her wrinkled face would show distaste at the remarks of her man as he commented on his sighting. She was always set with her stout body on a comfortable armchair, busy at needlework, and his remarks disturbed her at times. Still, she was good woman to her man, always attentive to his needs.

My dad and mom, just plain folks, settled in the bottom floor rooms with their passel of children; I was the oldest, by the name of Jimmy, followed by my sister Betty, a cute little tyke of eleven, and the quarrelsome wee twins Tim and David. We children were a scrawny lot, as the bitter passing years showed in the yearning in our young eyes and in the shabbiness of our dress.

My dumpy Aunt Fray, whose culinary efforts were A-1, occupied the third floor. She appreciated with a cheery look on cherubic features, the compliments of her nephews and niece when her cooking and baking were sampled. No children were blessed to her, and her life mainly centered on the cooking range.

Her man, our Uncle Bill, a bulky figure of a man, was always seen lazing on the sofa, never seemed to be busy with anything. Except at certain nights, mainly on the weekends and at holiday eves, when he would doff his fedora and step out, returning in the early morning hours. Uncle Bill had plenty of money for those times and he would cover many an unpaid bill. At the later years, when the law interfered we found out that he managed a club for gentlemen, and he catered to those who had the coin to spare.

The third floor also held a mystery to our eyes. A room in the far corner was the abode of a spinster aunt whose shadowy form was hardly seen. She scared the wits out of the younger children with her whispering airs when she made her way down the stairs to attend to her duties on the outside.

The news of the great train accident was relayed to us by grandpaw when he entered the house. True to his words, he had taken the early commuter train to our town, and at the crossroads near the station it met with an accident. According to eyewitnesses, the shining Packard of our town's learned judge stalled on the line, and the train plowed into it. The engineer of the train braked hard, causing the coaches and freight wagons to bunch up with a loud clashing of couplings. There were no fatalities, just a few standing passengers thrown back to their seats by the suddenness of the crash. Off course there could be heard the screams of the frightened and moans of pain, or rather curses on the jolting caused to some by the backlash.

"T'was nothing," commented my grandfather. He told of the impact between the judge's limo and the train in great detail, chortling at the destruction of the auto. "Heh, heh, I guess the old jedge is hopping mad at his driver. Serves him right." Then he told how he had helped the commuter's few passengers to settle down, "Nobody was rightfully injured, just shook up!"

He continued his story by relating that when the medical assistance arrived he simply lifted his luggage from the rack and made his way from the coach. He hefted his case on his right shoulder and trekked to the station. He accepted a lift from a deliveryman and on the way they gossiped about the incident. He laughed when he related that the drayman had spoken about compensation for injuries it he had stayed put and waited for the officials of the company.

But to grandmother it was no laughing matter. Money was still in short supply, and the chance to earn a few dollars in compensation was an opportunity to be had. Thoughts rumbled though her mind, which spun like a roulette wheel as numbers tumbled: fifty dollars, a hundred dollars all displayed the fortune to be earned.

Her mind was filled with the dream of the luxurious purchase of patent leather shoes for herself and a shining knobbed cane for her man. The possibly of obtaining such a windfall pressed her into action. Grandpa barely had time to put his suitcase on the floor when a whirlwind engulfed him.

Without further ado, grandma quickly grabbed grandpa by the seat of his trousers and shoved him up the stairs to his bedroom. It was quite amazing how she was able to move so fast on her stumpy legs, but move she did. And before grandpaw could utter a protest, he was forced to undress to his undies and be covered in the blessed bed. We children looked on and giggled at the struggle between the two, but we knew grandmaw always won, no matter how her good man complained.

"I ain't sick nowhow," he protested as grandma shoved him under the covers with a heavy hand.

"Shet yer trap," she ordered. Then she commanded my sister Betty to fetch the medicine from the cabinet in the bathroom. Medicine to her included a bottle of cod liver oil, a potion she relied on for all ailments, be it the flu or colic. But the medicine didn't help in the year when the great flood rushed through the valley and carried off her children except my dad, her eldest. Off course she had other remedies mostly home prepared from nature's medicine chest, but the foul liquid was her first choice.

"Open yer mouth wide," she ordered as she spooned two large portions down the throat of grandpaw. Grandma shoed us away as our giggles turned into hilarity as we watched the sour look on grandpa. "Skit and skidaddle, t'aint funny. Grandpaw has been in an accident and he is mighty poor-looking."

True, grandpaw looked like hell's afire when Doc Halliday called to examine him. The good physician wasn't aware of the constant dosage of cod liver oil and he saw his patient drained and as white as a sheet. Well, Doc Halliday wrote out a medical certificate that verified his patient's ailments in connection to the great train wreck.

The claim was filed and within a few days a claim adjuster from the insurance company knocked on the door our big house. Grandpaw was yanked from the comfort of his perch on his rocker by his woman with the help of us kids, together with our mother. He was stripped of clothes to his flannels and dressed in his pajamas. We shoved him into his bed and grandma tucked the blankets and secured it tightly under the mattress. But, the bottle of the cod liver oil was empty and there was no other medicine to shove down the throat of the old man. We just hoped for the best and that grandpaw would convince them of his ailments.

Grandmaw, together with all of us were at the door to greet the official. During the absence of his audience, grandpa simply left bounds of his blankets and rushed hurriedly to pull the shade and window open. He then returned to his bed; he then puffed up the pillow, covered himself lightly with one of his blankets and leaned back in its comfort.

Grandma was horrified at the sight when she ushered the claim adjuster to the bedside. To the good woman, the room looked like a cheery reception chamber and not one for the sick. She simply shrugged her shoulders and quickly ordered a chair to be brought for the official's comfort. The numbers in her mind turned to ten, twenty, or even just a zero.

The young dandy of an insurance feller faced my grandpaw and apologized for the intrusion at this critical period. With that note expressed he wished him better health in the coming days.

Grandpa thanked him for his good words. With a smile in his tone, the old man spelled a few pleasant words with him. "Now, how can I help you?"

"I will put it to you in simple terms. How much would you require to close the claim?" the adjuster spoke directly.

"Grandpa stared at him with a glint to his eyes and with a mischievous grin to his lips uttered, "Ten thousand dollars would be a tidy sum." Grandma groaned when she heard his words and nearly swooned.

The insurance man said that his company would consider his offer for settlement and a letter to the effect would be sent immediately. Then he removed a file from his briefcase, turned the cover and added a few notations to one of the pages. Grandpa was handed a fountain pen and he added his signature to a form. After a moment or so, after the conclusion of the affair, the official lifted himself from the comfort of his chair and left the confines of the bedroom with another spoken wish for better health.

The day of the great train accident had passed and the family had settled down to their regular activities. Grandpaw, still on his rocker, searched out the sights through the opening of the window of the parlor. Grandmaw was at her comfort in her armchair, busily at her work with the needle. There was no need to tell of their daily routine for the rest of the family.

Grandmaw was first at the door when the postman knocked at the door. A registered letter was in his hands, and the good woman, with a shaking hand, signed for it. When she closed the door, she looked at the envelope addressed to grandpaw with the return address of the insurance company.

She adjusted her bifocals as she opened the envelope and removed a letter with a check of three thousand, five hundred dollars attached to it.

Her heels clicked slightly in jubilation when she grasped the meaning of the figures of the check. Then she joyfully exclaimed, “Jumping Jehosophat, grandpaw done did it!”

Copyright © 2006 by Norman A. Rubin

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