We only lived four blocks from the station but this grandma was old, and used to living better, and so when she came to visit on Sunday afternoons my father and I would climb into the green Ford and drive to the station, parking above the eastbound platform among the taxis that sat empty awaiting busier times the next morning. This was before there were new trains and high platforms that let you just walk right onto the train floor. Though you got on the trains at Grand Central that way, somehow - my little kid brain was not quite sure how - by the time you got here the floors at the doorways had disappeared and been replaced by steps that led you down to wear you'd jump the last foot and a half to the wooden platform that sat only that distance above the trackbed. Close enough that a fence sat between the tracks to discourage those who might want to run straight across to the other side without climbing the stairs of the overpass or descending into the always wet tunnel that ran underneath the right-of-way. Close enough that as we heard the train in the distance I would scramble down and place pennies from my father's pocket onto the tracks, and scramble back up to safety. Grandma would descend from the rear of the second car, always the rear of the second car, my father taking her hand and helping her down. Her other hand always held her purse and both a bag from a New York delicatessen and a string-tied box from a New York bakery. My father would take the bag, and I would get the box, but never without the warning not to, "eat anything yet young man."
The colors are particularly bright in these memories, at least the primaries. The Blue Bird Taxis, the red of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford R.R. script on the front of the train, the yellow "1st" on the bank branch that sat inside the station building on the westbound side, and the blue of the unreadable words on the bakery box as I curled my fingers around the taut string that my sisters would later use for games of Cat's Cradle. I was always running to catch up, of course, having had to climb back down to the tracks to retrieve the squashed coins, flat, featureless spills of copper, before I could begin my ascent to the car.
The bag held cold cuts, the riches of New York cuisine, pastrami and corned beef, and sharp dill pickles. The box held black and white cookies, huge and fresh and sweetly lemon. My grandmother held grudges against my father and mother which built from polite kisses as she entered our house to angry words to confusing silences as the afternoons drew late.
By that time I was usually gone – flat coins in my pocket, wandering the shallow shore among reeds and shells and rusting beer cans. Alone in my own quiet. Scenes remembered only in black and white.
copyright 2006 by Ira Socol
photo altered from photo copyright Joseph D. Korner