The Tooting Trolley
At the foot of the Mud Island bridge runs a trolley. The trolley is painted a happy yellow and green. It toots across the street like a toy. But every day, when the trolley is approaching and the caution arm descending, people veer around the arm and scoot cross the track. This is the level of our collective sophistication: trying to “beat the trolley.”
In 1960, on a cold December night in Colorado Springs, my father was killed trying to beat the train. He was in a hurry, he had places to go. Only a short time before, the Western Slope of Colorado had been working alive with the uranium boom. That time had passed, but my dad still pursued uranium business on the Slope, still worked uranium leases. So when the red lights flashed, telling him to wait, he sped up instead.
Three years old at the time, crazy about my Daddy Joe, I was traumatized by his death. The experts actually call it “traumatic bereavement.” When death is sudden and violent, the horror of it all trumps the grief. The little girl is afraid to think about her Daddy Joe – hit by a train! – just as sure as she’s drawn to the lonesome whistle whine.
Before I understood the effects of traumatic grief, I would feel guilty when I reacted in kinship with the passing train. How could I love this roaring monster that killed my dad? Now I know: we love that which is left for us to love. So I wrote a novel, TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE, where the protagonist is a young women on a cross-country train trip coming to terms with the grief of losing her dad. It’s funny, this novel. But most things serious are.
So when folks look left and right, then scoot around the trolley arm, I wonder: what would your family think if you didn’t make it across? What if their grief was symbolized by a yellow and green toy trolley? Hit by the trolley! You can’t get much sillier than that.
Slow down. Wait. Lose your impatience. Don’t let death laugh at your passing.
2018 Summer Novels, cross country train trip, Funny novels 2018, Southern fiction, Summer beach reads, Summer reading 2018, Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure, Traumatic grief
Truly traumatic. My first wife died when our son was 14 months old. He had no words to explain why he wandered around at night
Ellen Morris Prewitt
This makes me grieve for your son though I don’t know him and ’twas a long time ago. When my grandsons were 3, I looked at their adoration of their parents and wondered how anyone could believe a child is “too young” to know what it means to lose a parent. But, of course, my eyes were open for it.