I got stuck at a railroad crossing on the way home today. I texted my wife to complain as I watched shipping containers roll by. As I sat there fretting about the minutes of my evening slipping away with the boxcars, my mind drifted to a story of a train ride my great-grandmother used to tell me about, a ride she made when she was younger than my daughters are now. I thought of the man she found waiting for her at the station. When she was a girl back before prohibition when the 20's were just beginning to roar, Grandma's parents owned the saloon in town. A drinking establishment on a railroad line was a good business in those days. Grandma's folks were as blue-blooded as hillbillies get, coming from the decidedly better stock in town. As the only child of a well-to-do family, Grandma was expected to marry well.
When a rough farm boy "won her in a fight," as she described it, her mother disapproved. Grandma, though, she liked that farm boy. He'd bloodied a fancier boy's nose to win her favor, and that counted for something back then, at least as she told the story. When her mother forbade her from seeing him anymore, the young couple hopped a train to elope to a bigger town a little further down the line.
The young lovers got off the train at their destination, and Grandma's heart sank when she saw a man with a star on his chest waiting at the station. She knew her mother must have called ahead, the tavern being one of the few places in town with one of those new-fangled telephones. She and her lover tried to dodge around the constable in the crowd, but the lawman walked right up to them. He asked if they were eloping. Grandma's farm boy answered yes, as brave as he dared.
"Well then," the officer said, "I'll take you down to the courthouse for the paperwork."
Turned out, in those days there were so many young women from little towns in the hills marrying boys without parental approval that the justice of the peace had someone meet every train at the station. That way, there was someone to show the young couples to the court house. I guess it wouldn't do to have young couples from the little hamlets in the hill wandering around lost. Grandpa and Grandma were married that very day.
I only knew my great-grandparents when they were an old couple puttering around the house they'd built with money earned from hard years of farming and working in factories. Prohibition and vindictiveness had left Grandma without an inheritance. The years of toil had stooped both of them by the time I came along, but I like to imagine them as they were once, back when they hopped a train without thought to who would be waiting for them.
This evening, I gave my wife an extra squeeze in memory of my great-grandparents. I didn't bloody anyone's nose, though.