The scarecrow moved. In fact, he was doing a dance of sorts. Half running across the young field of corn, he fell several times. Laughing and jumping, the little boy turned and ran away only to be tackled and tickled by Mr. Scarecrow. Life for Tommy had been one big game of fun and play during the first five years of his life. His father managed to mix hard work on the farm with care and attention for a young boy growing up without any playmates. Tommy’s life revolved around his dad.
It began slowly – a persistent cough and an uneasy weak feeling. His wife finally convinced him to see the doctor in town. Tuberculosis was the diagnosis. Tommy was eight when they went down to Sycamore Station to put his dad on the train to Rome. His dad was going to the “goodest doctors” he told everyone, and it wouldn’t be long before that big ol’ engine would be pulling back into the station with his dad all well. His wife and friends hoped, but they had all come to know tuberculosis as the killer it was.
When word finally came that Tommy’s dad had died, he refused to accept that his best friend was gone forever. He never cried, he just told everyone his dad was coming home one day and he would meet him at Sycamore Station. Timed with the train schedule, every day found Tommy standing on the wooden platform adjacent to the tracks. School was no place for Tommy as depression took its toll. As he grew older, he would mumble incoherently and laugh aloud.
When his mother died and Tommy became a young man, an aunt took on the responsibility of keeping him. Quite harmless, but the situation kept his aunt under a tremendous strain.
The train eventually passed Sycamore, only to slow down to catch the mailbag. Soon the station was boarded up. It made no never mind to Uncle Tommy, whom the towns’ people nickname and adopted, for he maintained his vigil of the old Seaboard line. If he wasn’t at the station, he was sitting on the front porch of his aunt’s house. The wooden platform had become rickety over the years and the general safety condition of Sycamore Station left little doubt it had seen its last days. Some of the towns’ people began to worry about Tommy and after his aunt passed, he became a ward of the state.
A sadder day could not be imagined as the state sent a station wagon and counselor to escort Uncle Tommy to an institution far away. Many wondered what was going through his tormented mind as the car drove slowly past the station, Tommy’s nose pressed tight against the glass. Perhaps it was still frozen in time the day his dad was put on the train. Maybe it was a fun time with Mr. Scarecrow romping through the field. Only Tommy would know, and his thoughts were locked inside his anguished soul, perhaps until his grave.
Years passed by as Tommy walked the grounds and stared off into space. His pocket watch with his pieced-together gold chain, given to him by a sympathetic conductor years ago, would come out of his pocket in time with a schedule printed on an old chalkboard inside the decaying Sycamore Station. Railroad bureaucracy could probably answer how and why the station was not demolished over the years. Chinaberry trees and scuppernong vines had nearly taken over. Graffiti from senior high school classes decorated most of the old platform and inside used to be home to hobos and stray dogs. Now the whole place was just too dangerous for humans or animals.
Few people remained that knew the whole story about Uncle Tommy. Yet there were some, and when they told the story, it was always delivered with respect and all of the sad overtures associated with the tragedy. Doc Lewis told the story many times from the counter of his country drugstore. As he lamented the tragedy, he could view Sycamore Station through the picture window of his store.
The new high-speed locomotives sped past the little town of Sycamore. Interstate highways made the mailbag obsolete so the trains never slowed. Doc used to marvel how the old station withstood the vibration that the whole town felt. Retired and old, he still made the rounds and was usually at the store when his son would close at night. Most evenings would catch him reminiscing about his old town. Staring at Sycamore Station from the front porch of the store, he couldn’t help but think and wonder about Uncle Tommy.
On a humid summer evening, far off lightning caused Doc to badger his son into hurrying before foul weather set in. “Looks like a toad strangler on the way”, he teased. His son hurried. They both stopped in their tracks. Was the light coming from inside Sycamore Station or reflecting off the railroad tracks? The storm was ever so close, evidenced by the cool breeze and rusting leaves. Each looked at the other and then peeped through the vines covering the broken window. To their amazement, they saw Tommy, talking to someone who wasn’t there. Oblivious to the rain soaking them, they watched as he reached out his hand, perhaps for a ticket, and took a seat on the rickety bench that had somehow survived over the years.
Doc Lewis called out, “Tommy, we are here to help you”. “It’s time for my train”, Tommy spoke in a clear voice. They looked at each other as they converged on Tommy. A relaxed smile told the story of years of grief erased. His slender body slumped slightly.
His train had arrived.