Sound of train whistle takes her to Germany

Published 2:55 am Saturday, February 23, 2019

.During a movie my son and I were watching recently, the scene focused on a railway station in Europe. It looked like a dreary day. People were bundled in heavy coats. Most of them wore a hat or some kind of head cover. There was not a lot of bustle in anticipation of a train. A few women cradled a baby, or held a youngster with a tight grip as they walked along.

As a train thundered in, I heard a long, lonesome whistle that carried me back to a late December day years ago. At that time I had disembarked from a ship in Bremerhaven, Germany with our two children. We were among a crowd of military dependents who boarded a train for the last leg of our journey to Bamberg, Germany. We heard its whistle blast as it roared into every station along the way. I was familiar with train whistles, having grown up across the road from a railway station. But these sounds were so different. And so lonesome. Even to this day when I watch television or a movie with that different train whistle, it takes me back to that long train ride punctuated with a tinge of anxiety.

With each of its strange and unfamiliar blasts, it reminded me I was moving away from everything familiar. I was taking our six-year-old son and our toddler daughter to a new country. I couldn’t even speak the language. I was apprehensive. Just a few days previous, we had spent Christmas on the ship that was speeding us on the second leg of our journey. Every time I heard that shrill, lonesome whistle as our train whizzed along, I reminded myself that my husband was awaiting us at our destination.

He had been at his new duty station for four months. We were anxious to see him again. He had received word when we were supposed to arrive. However, he was not notified that heavy fog had prevented our ship from reaching port in Bremerhaven as scheduled. Along with others, we were delayed for a day. He met the train and watched in anticipation as passengers stepped off. His family was missing. He immediately contacted headquarters and found we were to arrive the next day.

What a day that was. We left the train and stepped into his welcoming arms. We were so excited we traveled about a mile before we remembered we had not picked up our luggage. We went back and loaded it into the dilapidated old Plymouth station wagon he had purchased for us and headed for our new home.

When he completed his Germany tour, we traveled the first part of our return by air. Upon arrival in the states, he chose to travel by train. I barely noticed its signaling whistle as our train reached stops along the way. There were no shrill, lonesome whistles.

I was so comfortable with that, I even slept most of the trip home.

Nina Keenam is a former newspaper reporter.