One day in the fall of September 2005, I was talking to my parents about the trains. It had been over twenty years since my grandmother had moved from her home on Lake Street in Elmira. My grandmother’s house abutted a viaduct and when I stayed there as child in the 1960s, the rumble of the train reverberated through the home. The Erie Lackawanna Railroad ran above my grandparents’ front and back yard on its trips between New York City and Buffalo.
“Yep,” my Dad said, “on the other side of the viaduct was a train stop, in the middle of the night, on many nights, the Phoebe Snow, a popular passenger train, stopped and Grandma opened the store up for the passengers.”
In my mind’s eye, I saw my 4 foot 10 inch Grandma throw on her navy blue coat and walk out the side door with her unique gait, landing heavier on her right foot. Down the red brick drive to the front of their building, turning the key to Grandpa’s store and the glass cases lined with Mallow Cups and cigarettes in their Lucky Strike and Winston-Salem wrappers.
I wondered how the passengers transversed the viaduct, apparently there existed a set of stairs that climbed up and down to the other side. “What if they needed other things…things not at the store?”
“Oh, your grandmother, she’d help them out,” my Dad said.
I liked this story, it was comforting somehow, like the trains. The trains which I still find calming, the repetitious rumble, powerful moving ahead while standing still. I later asked my Aunt about Grandma opening up the store for people on the passenger train.
“Oh, yes,” she always did that. “In fact, on the last night the Phoebe Snow went through, the conductor gave her this lamp: ‘Here you go, something so you will never forget the Phoebe Snow.’ ”
My Aunt went into her garage and pulled out the lantern in the above picture. “We saved it after the Flood of 1972 but I need to clean it up, maybe a project for this winter.” she said and walked it back into the garage.
My Dad passed away soon after that and my Aunt never got around to the lantern. It is passed on for another time when it may bring people together and light the way.
Link to YouTube video about the Phoebe Snow: http://youtu.be/P6yjxjtVcuY