Last week, I had the pleasure of doing three new things. I had the opportunity to touch one of the new clock faces for the courthouse before it was lifted up to the tower to replace the old ones. I also got to shake the hand of Mark Twain, who was in town to speak at the library. Of course, he was not really Mark Twain, but he did portray the great writer and told stories Twain himself would have loved to hear.
I also had the privilege of being asked to join a group of men who get together for breakfast on occasions. I knew most of them and a few others I met for the first time. I was the new guy at the morning get together, but they made me feel welcome as if they had known me for a lifetime. They were easy to join and I enjoyed their telling of stories. I sometimes got lost when different stories were being told at the same time. But, never the less it was a gathering of men who enjoyed telling stories and laughing with friends.
The youngest was 59 and the oldest I believe was 68-a collection of men from different backgrounds telling stories from their lives. Several times the phrase was heard, “You remember that man who ” and then the story would go on in its telling. The retelling of stories is one of the greatest traditions mankind has passed from generation to generations. In many cultures those who are the teller of stories are greatly revered among its people. Their stories help to preserve their culture and history. This group of men may not realize they are passing down one of our greatest traditions. Today I will retell one of those stories told to me that morning.
Remember back to school, when the teacher explained how stories get changed each time they are retold? She would whisper a story to the first student and in turn they would pass it on to the next person in class. When the last student was asked to tell the story it often grew in size and may have taken on a life of its own. I always liked being the last kid to retell the story. That way I could do the telling and enhance it a little.
Well, I heard a story that morning at breakfast, I’ll whisper it to you and perhaps one day you can whisper it to a friend. This is the story of the circus train that came through New Martinsville one night long ago; we’ll say it was clear back in the 1930’s. That same night a man decided to go fishing with his friends. Now, the man’s wife knew when he was planning to go fishing with his cronies, it often meant no good may be in the works. She knew that when the men got together they sometimes stopped by the fellow who lived down the tracks. He was a farmer by trade, but them that knew him realized he made extra money cooking up moonshine on the side. They say he made the best shine this side of Slimchance Hill. He made sure to tell those who bought his creation it was to be used for medicinal purpose only. That’s what he told them that came and purchased the clear liquid.
Well, that Saturday night the men got together down along the creek and built a big fire to see the water and keep way the mosquitoes. It was one of those dark nights when a person even with 20/20 sight could not see beyond the light of the crackling fire. For whatever reason, that night the men did not have their bottle of medicinal moonshine to keep away the cold and help with the misery. That night the fire and the fishing was good enough to keep them warm for the night.
Over the night sounds the men heard the courthouse clock chime in the distance. Twelve times it sent the bell’s voice into the still night air. Shortly thereafter in the distance the men heard the sounds of a train echoing off the hills. One man who knew of such things said, “That is odd, no train should be comin’ this way ’til mornin’.”
The men looked toward the approaching sound and could now see a glowing light dancing on the hillsides as it came down the tracks. By now they could hear the sounds of the Malley’s engine, along with the venting steam from the large iron horse. As it came around the hill, the men could see flame shooting high into the night sky as it headed into town. As the train passed the men by they could see on the sides of the cars it was a circus train. Faces of colorful clowns and wild animals were painted on the cars. The back two cars were on fire as it thundered passed the men. As quickly as it appeared, it vanished into the night heading toward the Brooklyn rail yard.
The men were astonished at what they had just seen, but after awhile the men’s excitement faded and they decided it was time to quit fishing for the night and head home to their warm beds. After all, they had not brought anything to drink and warm their insides. The fish had stopped biting and the fire that kept them warm and mosquitoes away was burning down and growing cold. The last time the clock sounded it was three in the morning. The men decided to take their catch and return home for the night.
When the man got home it was four in the morning. His wife was not happy that he gone fishing, she had waited for him, she was not in a good mood. He tried to explain where he had been, but she figured he had been with his cronies and sampling moonshine. Finally the man told his wife about the circus train and its passing with flames shooting high into the night. The story was too much for his wife; she figured he was drunk and telling wild tales. She knew where the man kept his stash of shine in the cool rain barrel. She took great pleasure in busting the bottles of medicinal shine. “There,” she said, “that will be the last time you come home and try and tell me some wild story of circus trains and fire at this time of night. Now, get yourself to bed. You’re comin’ to church with me this mornin’ and I’m askin’ the preacher to say a word about the evil of lyin’ and drinkin’.” The man did not argue with his wife, he did as he was told.
The next day the woman discovered the story was true, but still she never let her husband know she knew the truth. Deep down she hoped the words of the preacher that Sunday morning would change the man’s ways.
I enjoyed my breakfast with my new friends and I loved to hear stories of life and fun from our community’s past. I hope you enjoyed the retelling of this story and you may whisper it to a friend who may retell it to their friends as we each listen, Thru the Lens.