“Grandpa!” Tommy bolted from his chair and sprinted through the kitchen, ducking under his mother’s arm as he made his way to the living room. He entered the living room just as his grandfather was putting his hat, an old bowler, down on the back of the couch. “It’s so good to see you!”
“It is? Because I can’t see a thing,” he said with a chuckle as his white mustache bounced up and down. Tommy gave a forced laugh despite the joke not being that humorous. “It is certainly good to see you, my boy. How was your birthday, son?”
“It was good. Do you remember much about The Daylight, Grandpa?” Tommy cut straight to the chase. The sunset outside was deepening and he would need to leave soon. As his eyes glanced outside to gauge the amount of light he still had, Tommy did not notice the way his grandpa’s face fell a little.
“Ah, The Daylight. Why do you ask?” Tommy bit his lip in frustration. He didn’t want a whole conversation from his grandpa, rather just the facts. He needed to know something, anything that might make it easier to find the Engine in semidarkness.
“Just curious,” he lied.
“Alright. What do you want to know?”
“What color was the Engine? Were there any distinguishable features that might make it easy to find if a person was looking, say in the dark?” His grandpa gave a small smile as he leaned up against the back of the couch with his hands clasped on his waist.
“Going looking for it, eh?” Tommy felt his stomach plummet.
Tommy could tell his grandpa didn’t believe him.
“What did you find, son?” His grandpa pressed. Tommy started to grow hot.
“Just something small. The headlamp. I think,” he said sheepishly.
“Really!?” His grandfather’s sudden jubilance made Tommy jump. He glanced backwards at the kitchen, expecting his mom to come out to investigate their conversation. “That’s pretty exciting, Tommy. You know, you’re named after him—my father. Thomas James Rice, just like yourself.” Tommy turned back around and saw in his grandpa’s eyes a faraway look. Tommy was afraid that his grandpa was about to get lost on a trip down memory lane.
“Are you okay, Grandpa?” Tommy asked quietly.
“Yes, my boy. Just remembering. I was six when he died. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. Though he’d be quite an old man, by now.”
Grandpa was definitely losing it. By now, Tommy’s great-grandfather would be almost one hundred. He’d be long dead—not just an old man. Tommy started to get impatient. The light was almost completely gone, now. If he wanted to convince his parents he was heading to Sam’s, he needed to leave soon before it got too dark.
“We used to meet him at the train station when he was finally done with his shift. You know, The Daylight was the fastest train around and one of the most popular, too. I remember my dad would be gone for almost three days at a time. But, he’d always be so happy to see my mother and I. I’d go running to him, and he’d sweep me up in his arms. I remember his mustache would tickle the top of my head. I’d pull on it and he’d make the sound of a train horn,” his Grandpa said with a soft chuckle. Despite himself, Tommy was listening. He could see the profound fondness in his Grandfather’s gray eyes which shimmered with memories.
“Did you ever ride on The Daylight with him?”
“Oh no, no. That was a Daylight. It went all the way from Portland Oregon to San Francisco to Los Angeles—a fifteen-hour trip that traveled through mountains and valleys and over Lake Shasta. I was much too young to going traipsing with my father. But, boy oh boy did I ever enjoy being on The Daylight. She was a beauty. There were observation cars, coffee shop cars, dining cars. You name it! My father used to run up and down those train cars chasing after his little rascal,” he remembered with a chuckle.
Another question rose up in Tommy’s mind and tumbled out of his mouth before he could think through its meaning. “What was it like when he died?” As soon as the question left his lips, Tommy regretted asking it. His grandfather’s face fell. A pained, uncomfortable silence settled.
“Let me sit down, son,” he responded softly. He moved around to the other side of the couch and sat deep into the cushions. Tommy remained standing, keenly aware of how awkward the conversation had become.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—.”
“Oh, don’t apologize. It’s just been a long time since somebody asked me that.” Tommy looked out the front window, knowing it was about to be too late to leave. He looked down at his grandpa who looked small in between the cushions. Tommy sat down next to him.
“Tell me about it, Grandpa.”
“Certainly, son. It was…difficult. For my mother and I. You see, my father was the youngest Chief Engineer at the time and my mother was so proud of my father’s accomplishments. He was the type of man who always did the right things. He worked hard and didn’t complain. So, when we were told he was responsible for the derailing of The Daylight, we couldn’t fathom the idea. It seemed preposterous, but many caught onto the idea and blamed him for what had happened. The papers said he had been inexperienced, careless, irresponsible. Some even said he’d done it on purpose.” Tommy saw degrees of hurt express in his Grandpa’s eyes as he relived the memories.
“And you, Grandpa? Do you believe he was to blame?”
His grandpa was silent for a moment. He folded his hands across his lap and fidgeted with his fingers.
“I believe my father made mistakes and was not by any means a perfect man,” he began as he chose his words carefully, “but I do not believe my father caused the derailing of The Daylight and deserved to have his reputation dragged through the muck like it was during those days,” he said with decades old certainty. “But, I don’t know for certain. Everyone onboard that train died, so there is no way of knowing for sure what really happened. One can only hope.” The thought of not knowing made Tommy a little sad for his grandpa.
“So, what did you do?”
“I made a choice, son. To trust my father’s legacy, and to build on it. I had children of my own, and eventually people forgot about my father altogether.” A heavy silence fell between them and Tommy didn’t know how to break it. “but, to answer your question, it was black and had red stripes going down the Engine. A thing of beauty.”
“Thanks, Grandpa. Maybe I can find it and prove your dad wasn’t the reason why it derailed.”
His grandfather smiled.
“Yes, I’d like that. You’ll have to tell me what you find, son. But, help me up so I can go see your mother,” he said as he withdrew himself from the cushions. Tommy stood quickly and helped his grandpa get to his feet.
“She’s in the kitchen. Do you mind letting her know I am going to my friend Sam’s house? Tell her I’ll just stay for a couple hours and be back later.”
His grandfather smiled knowingly.
“Don’t forget a flashlight, Tommy. It’s dark out there,” he said with a wink as he headed to the kitchen.