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Lessons from the streets of Dunsmuir

This was written with endearment to my childhood memories of Dunsmuir, California, with my Dunsmuiresque sense of humor and my Dunsmuir educational bliss. So any typos can be blamed on Mr. Bispala, and any punctuation errors can be blamed on Mrs. Day. But the humor is all me.

I was 3, nearly 6, when I thought my dad was lost on the train. He was scheduled one Sunday afternoon to bring in the Shasta Daylight No. 10. That schedule business didn’t happen very often because he didn’t have the seniority to work the “good” jobs, but by luck he caught the passenger train home that day and had a scheduled time to come home.

My mother helped me cross the street and I walked the three blocks to the depot to wait for him to come in. She told me exactly where to sit and to stay there. Not having a lick of sense, I did just the opposite.

After all, there was so much to hold a child’s attention. Like the smell of Chinese food from Motto’s across the street. I could smell soggy chow mein, just as I had the time my mom was called for jury duty and it was up to dad to feed us. Boy, did I learn to love jury duty, because my mom seemed to be on a limited Rolodex and was called many times in my youth. I loved Chinese food from then on, but none has ever seemed so satisfying as Motto’s soggy chow mein .

Also, there was the big circular fountain with huge trout swimming in it. Talk about an entertainment committee. Those trout were great entertainment for a small child. My mother didn’t give me coins to throw in the fountain, so I looked for rocks and watched them settle to the turquoise floor of the home of the circulating fish. Didn’t they get dizzy? They swam round and round.

I never thought that they might all be brain damaged from the stuff thrown by little kids like me hitting them in the head. Now, I know better. Plus, there were the decorative pipe railings that surrounded the park-like setting of the depot grounds. They begged to be climbed and adorned with hanging children performing acrobatic feats while waiting for the train. And the slopes. I loved to do somersaults down the grassy slopes that ended abruptly onto the train platform. You had to be careful that you didn’t end abruptly on the asphalt yourself.

Somehow, you didn't have to worry about dog poop there. It seemed to be a dog-poop-free zone. And those stairs that led down from the terrace to the flat train tracks ... I could amuse myself for an extended period of time on them, and as it turned out, that day, I did.

Time passed. A lot of time. It seemed like hours to a child. The train was late. My mother got worried and came down to the depot to get me and take me home, but I wasn’t where she told me to stay. Oops! I was sitting on the bottom stair of the staircase, out of sight from the road, just having finished an imaginary game of “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” all by myself.

After what seemed like forever, a familiar member of the crew dispatcher’s office, Charlie Taylor, came out and found me, thanks to my mother’s worried call for help. I cried and cried, thinking that my dad was lost, not realizing that the train had nowhere else to go but right through there. When it finally did come, I was so relieved that my dad was OK. I was especially pleased when I saw his face light up when he saw me.

After he “tied up,” we went home to a Sunday fried chicken dinner with smashed potatoes, gravy and peas and peach cobbler. My mom made a world-class cobbler.

I learned two things that day. To stay put where I was told to stay, and to thank God for the Southern Pacific Railroad for delivering my dad home safe and sound. And I would also thank him many times since for my memorable childhood on the streets of Dunsmuir.

Marilyn White lives in Medford.

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