Three little girls, all grown up.
I spent a good portion of my childhood in rural Eastern Oregon living in a small mobile home set on 40 acres of sagebrush and tumbleweeds. The closest town was 20 miles away and you had to turn off the paved road onto gravel to get to our place.
We had a small barn, a small flower garden and a fish pond by the front gate. But the most significant thing I recall was the railroad tracks about one hundred yards from the driveway gate. The Union Pacific ran a train on those tracks, passing by every day at about 4:00 p.m.
After school, we had just enough time to get a snack before we started to hear the rumble of the train. Every day, my two sisters and I would run outside and wave at the engineer, and then patiently wait for the caboose to see someone step out and wave back.
A few weeks into our ritual, on a sunny spring afternoon, something magical happened. As the caboose approached, we saw someone on the back looking toward us. The man leaned forward a little bit and threw a package to us! It was as magical as if Santa Claus himself had just dropped a gift from his sleigh.
It was bundle of cloth wrapped several times with string, and we grabbed it up off the dirt and gravel and ran into the house. My mother got out the scissors to clip the string, and beneath the layers of colored fabric there was a whole bag full of candy!
Our hearts were forever bonded with the men on that UP train. They didn't always throw candy, and they didn't throw something to us every day, but it didn't matter. Rain or snow -- my sisters and I never missed an opportunity to run out the gate to wave at the train.
At Christmas time, we returned home very late from spending the holiday with relatives in the Willamette Valley. We watched from the car as my mother made her way up the porch steps to turn on the light. Then, she stopped and turned to look at us. "Well, will you look at that?" she said.
Hanging on the door knob of our little trailer was a big stuffed teddy bear all decked out in Union Pacific attire. Our "friends" had to have stopped at our house to put that on our door. We were amazed at the possibility that the train had stopped just for us!
The next day we couldn't wait to rush out to wave at the train, taking our teddy bear with us so they would know that we were back and that we loved our gift. We watched down the track and saw the light from the train approaching. We first waved at the engineer and then counted the cars as they went by, waiting for the caboose. It seemed to us that the train was slowing. Surely it was our imagination, but could it be? Would they stop again?
The train slowed to a crawl. My mother must have been watching out the kitchen window because she came out with a package in her arms. As the caboose came into view, the train stopped -- right in front of our little place.
We ran to the train and the man on the caboose waved us to come on up. We climbed aboard and thanked the men that had given us such a heartwarming gift. My mother came up the steps with her package and we were bewildered when she handed the gift over. How did our mother know the train would stop? How was she able to afford a gift for the train men?
As the caboose man opened the gift, we saw that my mother had diligently saved every scrap of cloth that had been tied around every bundle of candy so generously tossed from the train. From those scraps of cloth she had sewn seat cushions for the men on the train who had to ride so long and so far each day.
We learned that day just how much that train and the kindness of strangers had meant to my mother and how thankful she was for the men who had brightened the lives of her little girls who lived in the country.