A forming rainbow heralded the passage of little Eugene Black into the everlasting.
|TEARS FOR EUGENE
The summer storm had almost passed, leaving a foreboding heaviness in its wake.
A few pink rays of sun slanted down through the still-boiling clouds and touched the black steel of a motionless coal-burning locomotive.
Vestiges of the storm lingered, sprinkling scattered drops of rain on steel tracks and, like the tears of angels, onto a little crushed form lying off to the side. A forming rainbow heralded the passage of Eugene Black into the everlasting.
The railroad crossing near our apartment building was a major thoroughfare for train traffic going east and west through Birmingham.
The crossing had three parallel levels, with each level having enough tracks to accommodate two trains. It was not uncommon on busy days to see six trains simultaneously crossing the intersection at 56th Street.
Between the levels on 56th Street was sort of a no-man's land, a place where you could stand and be surrounded by snorting, clanging behemoths. It was a forbidden thing to do, but the boys of the neighborhood would often sneak off to the
crossing and stand in no-man's land waiting for the trains to come. Exhilarated by being so close to danger, they would jump, wave and celebrate as the trains rumbled by.
Eugene and I were friends. In fact, we had played with our lead soldiers that same day behind the apartments, digging caves and hideouts for them in the big ash pile supplied by the neighborhood’s coal furnaces.
Storm clouds began to form around mid-afternoon and Mama called out the back door for me to come inside. Sticking lead soldiers into his overall pockets, Eugene said, "Think I’ll mosey down to the crossing before the rain starts; mebbe
see what’s on the flatcars today." And he waved goodbye.
Ambling toward the tracks, Eugene whistled and kicked at the loose, brown pebbles protruding from the squares in the sidewalk. He reckoned it was around three o'clock, about time for the long trains to pass through.
Looking up at the gathering storm, he stopped at the top level of tracks and balanced himself on one of the steel rails. I'll bet they'll have tanks and jeeps on the flatcars today, he thought.
Spewing black smoke and cinders, the first train came into view going eastward on the track level below Eugene. With arms extended to the sides like a high-wire acrobat, he walked unsteadily down the rail toward the approaching locomotive.
With its whistle blowing and steel wheels clattering, it was closer now. Eugene waved at the engineer from his make-believe high wire.
As the train reached 56th Street, its noise was so intense that it vibrated the rail on which Eugene was walking. It also veiled the sounds of a second, westbound train approaching on the track where Eugene walked.
Lightning cracked and thunder boomed as I lazed on the sofa in the living room watching sheets of rain beat against our front window. Soon, drowsiness turned into sleep.
It was a long storm as summer storms go, maybe two hours. As the worst of the rain was ending, I was awakened by wailing sirens and flashing red lights. Mama said, "Lightning must have struck a house."
All the commotion seemed to come from the direction of the track crossing so we walked onto the porch to get a better view. There were two fire trucks and an ambulance parked at the intersection. "Oh Lord, there's been a train wreck."
It was about then that my dad drove up. "It's bad, real bad," he said as he walked into the apartment. His eyes were squinty in a way I’d never seen before. He whispered something to Mama and, with a gasp, she brought her hands to her face and walked out of the room.
Dad said, "Get your rain slick on son, you and I are going for a walk." I rushed to the closet to get my yellow slicker, took my dad's hand and we began walking toward the intersection.
A crowd of people were gathered at the crossing, talking in hushed voices. Some were in uniforms; others were folks from the neighborhood. As Dad and I approached, we saw a man hunched over and kneeling beside a crumpled form lying next to the tracks.
We got nearer and I recognized him: it was Mr. Black, Eugene's father, and he was crying and
patting his lifeless little boy on the back.
"Daddy, is that Eugene?"
"Yes, that's Eugene; now son, do you know the reason I brought you here?"
Never in my life has a reason been so clear.