In the 1940s as the world was in turmoil with the drumbeats of war, as the Nazis were consolidating power in the center of Europe, the rural America and in the heart of Texas many were still living a subsisting life. John was such a person. His father was a subsisting farmer in the Texas gulf Coast, rice farmer to be specific. But their family were of humble background sharecroppers, they had no property of their own. They had no accumulated capital to be able to lease even better properties. So they did what many poor landless farmers were compelled to do: lease low lying mosquito infested coastal property from the landlord for a year or two and raise his family with the share cropping arrangement.
They had no permanent house, the family’s house was a makeshift wagon, towed behind a tractor. The family of four children and a wife, all were housed in this wagon. This was nomadic life, since landlords in those days did not want anyone to be too comfortable in using their properties for too long of a time. So the family had to move frequently, sometimes even every year.
Wherever the family moved, the first job for their father, the head of household was to set up a pitcher-pump or hand powered pump and to set up an out-house for the family. His next job was to go to go over the work site of rice paddy field and set up another pitcher-pump and to fill up the rice field with water. its is said that among all farmers who all work extremely hard, rice farmers are the most hardworking by very nature of the job. the water level has to be constantly maintained and at the right time, day or night. imagine filling up acres and acres of porous muddy fields with right level of water pumping with your hand, no electricity, no diesel no gasoline! According to the atuthor of Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell, rice farming is the most laborious job in the world, people who had not farmed rice has no idea how much labor it takes to produce any rice, it is a day and night work, work through evenings and mid nights, work through burning sun and pouring rain. Rice farm or paddy fields had to be submerged in water at the exact time and water level had to be maintained exactly and varies from cycle to cycle of the life of the rice paddy. Rice farmers get least of the sleep of all probably, less than the Silcon Valley upstaters perhaps.
Our protege went to work for rice farming since his very childhood, he had worked there before even he stepped foot in any school and then continued through it spent hours and hours pumping the pitcher pump for the rice paddy to be submerged in water had no time to scratch the swollen wound blood sucking mosquitoes had left him since he had to use both hands to power the handle of the pitcher pump. He had to wait till coming home as a young child to attend to the sores of mosquito bite which scratched intensely and then turned to so many sores and the scars are still there in his 7th decade of life.
He promised himself not to be rice farmer ever in this life and to get a better life for him and his future family. So he moved further east of Texas and landed a job in an industry doing manual labor at 3 dollars and 75 cents per hour. As he worked hard he was noticed and he kept on developing his skills. He eventually moved to the technical department and started learning about machineries. In few years he became a crane operator and started earning a decent sum of money for his family. By now he had a beautiful wife and two daughters. He had just bought a new home and the family was content and was settling down. To keep up with his ambition and to pay off the home loan earlier, he started doing another part time job in the Sheriff’s office, in those days they used to call them “Deputy Marshall”.
His life was good by now, a family and a nice home, the memories of hand pitcher water well, the back breaking works on rice paddy day and night, the struggle to keep the water level high or low depending on the cycles of life of paddy fields and mosquito infested swamps were far gone but still haunted his memories. He finally achieved his American dream in the best way ever known: his own hard work and honest work habits.
His older daughter was 15 and younger one was 9, one Saturday as he was working on his bathroom to make it look even better than he had bought it in. This was about mid morning. His family decided to go to skating. His oldest daughter was like any other teenager of her age, developing interest in boys rather than in helping him or interest in household help. The younger one was a different story, she is daddy’s buddy. She is like her daddy, insisting on helping him in any chores big or little. On this Saturday the family decided to go for skating in the nearby town, a drive of 20 minutes. While this was the idea of the older daughter, the younger one wanted to stay back with her father to help him in the bathroom beautification work. But him being on call in his part time job of Deputy Marshall in the small town of Texas, he told the young daughter, “You have to go with mom and sis, I cannot leave you alone in house if I get called by the Sheriff’s office”. “But I want to stay at home and help you daddy” she insisted. “I know baby, but you have to go with your mother, I am on call”, he insisted.
Time went by fast and it was shortly after the noon, he got a call from the Sheriff’s office, it was the Chief Marshall himself, “You got to come to the office right now!” he commanded. By now he, our subject had heard about the accident that took place in the neighboring town. “I hope its not one of your people Sheriff” he told the Sheriff. “Just come now” commanded the Sheriff.
He left everything and put on the Marshall’s batch on his left lapel and started for the Sheriff’s office. The Sheriff was there to greet him with few other people in grim face, “Its about the train accident, isn’t it? Don’t tell me our people got hurt!” he started telling the Sheriff. “It is not our people Buddy, it is your people!” Buddy was thunder stricken! He lost for few seconds not knowing what to say, what to do or where he was. By the time he could think of anything, his left hand preceded him with a big thump on the Sheriff’s desk that broke his wrist watch as it fell into pieces on the floor, “What are you saying Sheriff”! He yelled. “Yes its your family Buddy, I’m sorry Buddy, it’s your family!” Sheriff repeated again. “Are they in the hospital?” he asked now more composed after the initial rage. “They are dead, Buddy, your wife and older daughter are dead on the spot, your younger daughter is being life flighted in Houston” the sheriff retorted. “I need to go there” Buddy murmured and as he started walking, quickly Sheriff and his people blocked him, “Buddy you cannot go there, they are cut into pieces by the train!” “I need to go, I need to go” cried out Buddy as he was held back by his colleagues.
They finally convinced him that it is better for him to see his youngest daughter in the hospital being driven in a Sheriff’s vehicle than him going at the accident site. Once in the hospital, he was unable to recognize his youngest daughter, so swollen and disfigured, he could only watch her from a distant window as the doctors and nurses were still struggling with her mangled body. They eventually pronounced her dead in the hospital and the body was taken to the morgue.
At the funeral in his hometown, the funeral director let him see the faces of his wife and older daughter but his youngest daughter’s face was not shown. He went near the body and as he was removing the white sheet, his hand was stopped by the firm of the funeral director. “You cannot do that Buddy, she’s isn’t there only some parts”. He sank and cried on the floor, he could never forgive himself. This is the daughter who wanted to stay back with him, he is the one who insisted on her going, he is the one one who pushed her, he is the one who caused her death. This is the guilt of a father.
On their way to the skating ring, apparently his family picked up another girl who is the friend of their oldest daughter. The four people, his wife, two daughter and the daughter’s friend were on their way as they were crossing the railroad track. The flashing yellow was not working and the car loaded with humans was hit by the train wiping off Buddy’s family and also the daughter of the neighbor. Buddy’s American dream was shuttered, his life became empty, all hard work and even his existence in the world seemed meaningless, and his guilt for the young girl seemed impossible to overcome. He started seeing the world as a meaningless dark venture, no difference in day and night and in good and bad.
he started hating many things including himself, but none more than the train and railway systems and even people who work for the railway companies. these are the monsters that had stolen his family. every train track, every train whistle reminded him of his daughter and his guilt as father. he felt he was seized by trains everywhere he went and every direction he looks at. Railway was an omnipresent monster in his life. the changes were visible and palpable and there were rumors in town that Buddy will hurt someone or go back to drinking as he used to do in his younger years. One day Sheriff called him in the office, “Buddy I am worried about you. There is rumor going around”. “Tell you boss, that ain’t true, you don’t need to worry about it, I promised my daughter I ain’t drinking no more, I ain’t drinking ever again in my life, that is what I had promised to her before she died, before I pushed her to death and I ain’t never going to break my promise, not with my daughter” as his crying and shaking body shrilled out in pain. The Sheriff understood, who held him close and patting his back Sheriff said, “Buddy, I’m proud of you”.
How did you overcome such a tragedy? ” I asked him. Doc you never forget such an event, it haunts me everyday but I cope with this and life goes on. One thing I realized I cannot go on hearing trainwhistle or train pasinng through so the old house that I built and while building the bathroom I lost my family, I just had to leave it, ’cause I used to hear when trains passing through the town. My other pillar is my current wife who had tragedies of her own life and tragedy united us together. We support each other and understanding of each other’s life, I could not do without her love and support. Even 10 years after the loss of my family I realized that even getting stuck behind the lines of traffic for passing the train will bring the monster back in me. So now all my travel plan is done in advance and how to avoid sight or sound a train. Sometimes it may make into an hour journey to cross a 10 mile stretch of road so I could just avoid the train or its smell or its whistle. But it is worth it for me.
But over the years and decades, I also understood I have to make peace with people to live a life unless I want to take my own life away. So after 4 to 5 years of the tragedy I promised and convinced myself that I will not hate the people who are working for the train companies. They are just trying to earn a living as I am and perhaps many of them also have a story like me.