It was a simple throwaway moment. I was driving down 14th Street SW and as I stopped for a traffic light I looked off to my right. There, over by the old steam engine stashed away behind the ugly chain-link fence, was a young lad accompanied by a much older gentleman. I immediately made some quick assumptions — the young child could be no more than five years old, the man next to him was certainly his grandfather. A second glance revealed that perhaps it could even be his great-grandfather.
The child stood next to the fence, his hands clenched through the chain-link. Although his back was to me, I could envision the wide-eyed expression on his face as he revelled in looking at the iron behemoth sitting there just out of reach. With his body language you could read the excitement he was experiencing in that moment, particularily when his grandfather knelt beside him and started pointing to various parts of the locomotive and explaining how things worked, undoubtedly using simplified child-level terminology.
I watched the two of them, seperated by multiple generations but joined together by their mutual fascination with the steam engine. You could feel the pride and the enjoyment seeping from the old man’s pores as he and the young lad walked around checking things out from all sorts of angles.
Immediately my mind began to formulate a story for these two. Three of them came from a small town somewhere in Alberta to visit Heritage Park for the day — the grandfather, a mother and the child. The child had spotted the steam engine as they pulled into the parking lot and had screamed in excitement about wanting to see it up close. With vague promises of “We’ll look at it later.” his mother shuttled the family up to the gate where they dutifully paid their admissions, no doubt complaining about the price under her breath.
After spending the day checking out the sights and sounds of a bygone era the three of them had worked their way back to the parking lot. The mother was undoubtedly dragging by this point, tired and worn from keeping the young and the young-at-heart men in her life under control. She is dreading the four-hour drive back home, especially knowing she was about to hit the evening rushhour, a situation she is ill prepared for.
As they were loading everything into the van they young fellow spotted the train again and immediately wanted to rush across the lot to see it. The mother, sighing with frustration, just wants to get going but her father insists “A promise is a promise.” He and the young lad made their way over to the train, the grandfather explaining how when he was young these steam engines were a common sight, roaring across the prairies like giant mechanical dragons — breathing fire as they went. While Mom is sitting on the driver’s seat of the van fuming, her door open and her legs dangling just above the asphalt, Grandpa is taking his time, enjoying the role of being the one in charge of spoiling the young ‘ens.
It was at that moment, with the two of them there sharing a life experience, that I happened to drive down the road. My own frustration at hitting “yet another red light” melting away as I watch them enjoy each other’s company.
My mind races from their backstory to their future. The young lad has now grown older, and he is visiting the park with his own children. His wife is waiting impatiently while they check out the steam engine. He is explaining to the kids how, when he was their age, his grandfather had showed him this same locomotive when they came to the park many years ago. The oldest child is barely able to remember their great-grandfather, to the ones who are even younger he is nothing but the stuff of legends. The father explains things, often parroting the exact words that were spoken to him all those years ago when he was young and some random guy happened to be sitting at a nearby stop light.
What is it I witnessed? Was it a nothing moment that will be forgotten over the years? Maybe. Or, as I like to believe, I was allowed to witness a brief moment in time that will echo across the generations well into the future.