This is one of my favorite themes, especially with mixed groups of young and old.
My seniors had the real train memories, but the kids were all fascinated by the very idea of trains!
Books and Magazines
Images of train travel with sleeper cars and dining cars, brought back many memories. There were so many voices talking at once in my first group, we had to pass around a small train to show whose turn it was to speak!
"I remember when I was 5 and I had to get dressed up in a ruffly dress to travel with my grandmother on the train. I hated that dress and I couldn't stop crying!" Another shared, "I remember when I traveled alone on a train with my 5 kids. The best part was that they had a car where parents could take their kids to play. It was large and open and the kids even played ball! We had a great time." I couldn't even imagine there was such a thing!
Some books brought back memories of old movies. The book photo of "Some Like It Hot" gave a lot of us a good laugh. Who wouldn't love to be on train, "slumber partying" with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe? We came up with quite a list of movies involving trains... "North by Northwest", "Strangers on a Train", "Shanghai Express" , "Orient Express"...
Kids and Trains
When I was a kid, there were more toy electric trains and everyone knew the story of "The Little Engine That Could". I had quite a few kids visiting my senior groups and I was surprised at how much train knowledge they had. The "Thomas the Train" craze, with all their books and videos must have educated and entertained this generation more than I realized!
Waiting for Trains to Pass
One senior recalled walking to school with her young uncle when she was a child. They came upon a train stopped on the tracks. Her uncle insisted they crawl under so they wouldn't be late. When she began to cry, her uncle told her she could either go with him or walk back home herself. She remembers the panic she felt as she followed him under the train.
The old Currier and Ives prints reminded us of how train travel used to be. Inez reminded us of the coal carried on the trains. And many of us knew how dirty people used to get in those early days of train travel... with all the steam and soot. The image above of the people watching the train go by reminded Betty of being young and waving to the service men when traveled by on trains.
Music can be a powerful reminder of the past. My old recordings of "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "The Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe", made the weariest in my group sway.
Songs like "I've Been Working on the Railroad" had my youngest singing along. But the nicest surprise was in a group I don't have pictured. At the nursing home I had a son visiting his elderly mother. He and his cousin sat away from the group, just watching. But then the cousin asked if I knew the song, "People Get Ready". I said I wasn't sure, could he sing it? And he did an amazing version of the old Curtis Mayfield song. You could imagine a church choir backing him up. We were reminded of how often the train is a symbol in songs of the journey to heaven.
I shared a recording of the clanging sounds at railroad crossings. My toy wooden train whistle actually had a pretty authentic sound. But it was the recording of a distant train whistle that got the best reactions. We all agreed, the sound of a train at night was the most special, when the rest of the world is quieter. "What do you think when you hear a train at night?" I asked one group. Dorothy answered with a sigh and grin, "Ohh! It makes me think of going places!" To her, the sound conjured up good travel memories. I asked, "Anyone else?" Dot, who shares so many funny stories, became quiet. "It's a lonely sound." She said. We all agreed.
Last Stop for the Train
But the best part was when I announced, "Everyone grab a chair! Let's play train!" (The kids didn't even act like I was a crazy old lady!) Our train wound around the mountains of Utah... which was their choice of places. And every time I blew the train whistle, the train screeched to a halt and we took turns sharing all the amazing things we spotted out our train windows.
The little girl just beamed when she told me the name of a shelter where I could share the quilt with other kids. Her lit up face made me smile, but the thought of her knowing yet another shelter made me ache.
What Did I Learn?
For 20+ years children have called it the Magic Quilt. They've danced and pretended all over these colorful squares. I've dragged it to schools, shelters and studios where children have climbed on top to hear Magic Quilt Stories and to act them out.