There you sit, wearing your jean shorts, and bright white T-shirt, high up on the stool, little legs dangling off. So small, you can barely see out the window, so you shift to sitting on both knees.
Dad comes walking over; you smile up at him, brandishing a wide, semi-toothless smile. Setting the tray of food down in front of you, you reach for the sandwich, wrapped in red foil.
A kids-sized roast beef, along with a baggie of fries. Your dad takes a seat, asking you if the trains have come yet.
They haven’t, and he knows that.
Diligently watching, you wait for the massive yellow behemoths to pass by, while Dad ordered the food. As the chief conductor today, you imagine telling them when they can pass through the intersection, thundering along, while you and Dad watch them in awe.
This activity is the only entertainment the family can afford, but you don’t know, aren’t aware of the fantastic struggles of life. Yet.
It comes in lots of forms, but this, this experience, Saturday mornings, arriving at the same restaurant— grabbing the same two chairs—in front of the same, wide window, patiently awaiting your Union Pacific mafia is the pinnacle.
Dad can barely pay for the gas, let alone the meal. He says he ordered a kid’s meal to be just like you, but you aren’t old enough to understand. It still doesn’t completely sink in because you know there’s not a need to understand, only wanting to bask in the gloriousness of reliving the event.
Your little body shakes, as the long awaited, bright yellow hero of the day rolls by, causing the window to rattle, the soda drink in your cup to oscillate, producing a ceaseless grin upon your face. Glancing up at Dad,, he looks back into your eyes, telling you that this is what he looks forward to, and this alone.
Every Saturday morning, the same two chairs, and the same exact meal. He runs his fingers through your thin, shaggy, blonde hair, and then looks back at the train. You take your sandwich, dunk it into the little bowl of au jus—take a bite—chew—swallow. Following it with a gulp of your soda.
Each of the cars are counted, reaffirming your intelligence, the ability to count all the way up to fifty, without help from Dad.
But, it goes past fifty, onto…but you can’t remember what comes after, so you plead for help.
“That’s alright,” he says, running his fingers through your hair again. “That’ll cost you, though.” As he smiles, taking one greasy fry from your stash, dunking it in ketchup, and shoving it in his mouth, he accidentally leaves a few salt pellets behind, resting on his mustache.
“Hey!” you shout.
But, you immediately sit back down, knowing that he’d get mad at you for standing on the chair. And you put this occurrence fresh in your memory storage, as to never suffer another casualty again.
Dad hugs you and, again, tells you everything is going to be alright. You are old enough to question why he keeps affirming this.
But, you continue to eat your sandwich, as the seemingly never-ending line of train cars roll by, periodically announcing their immense bodies with their squealing metal wheels on the tracks.
After a few minutes, the flashing lights discontinue, and the gates lift up to allow the pent-up line of automobiles through the intersection.
What remains is like dying, withering leaves on a tree. It’ll probably be a while until the next train comes along.
“I love you dad,” you say, hugging his arm, and squeezing his hand as hard as you can squeeze.
He smiles, looking down at you, squeezing your hand back, and says, “I love you, too. Everything is going to be alright.”
You lean your head against his arm, still holding onto his hand, but the grip has loosened, as you patiently waiting for another train to thunder through the intersection.
The feeling of invincibility overtakes your limbs. You don’t want to let go of his hand and a radiant heat pools around your heart. Reluctancy recedes, as you need to let go in order to finish your meal.
As you take the last bite of the sandwich, drink more of your soda, the lights suddenly flash again, gates closing. A jolt of excitement overtakes your body, as you almost jump out of the chair, nearly knocking the tray of food to the floor.
Rarely do two trains pass by so close together. You look up at Dad, but he’s preoccupied with the sound of the horn, the clanking of the wheels, and the thunderous vibrations coming from the unbelievably large yellow vehicles.
You wonder how you got so lucky.