The dream is a memory, the memory a dream. One such had its beginning in perhaps my seventh or eighth year, for it was after my recurring hospital-related dream of shooting marbles with George, though not so long that others had taken on any significance. I say it had its beginning, because it lives on, even now, as I approach my sixty-seventh birthday. I was reminded of it again when I mentioned listening to the hot summer nights through my open bedroom window. The window had a curtain, which was also left open, to welcome even the slightest breeze. And so while I was inside, the night was inside too, right where it had always been, when dry grass, lizards, and horned toads had inhabited the place since occupied by our home. Crickets and frogs contributed prominently to the night’s music. But another sound I loved was the jostling of railcars on the tracks that passed by the packing-houses a mile away on the west end of town, as they took their place alongside the old wooden buildings to be loaded with fresh peaches, plums, and nectarines. To my ears, against the background of cricket-song, their gasping, creaking, and clanking had great symphonic purpose. Now I think of Beethoven; then, the images of railroad tracks, freight cars, and the men who worked in and around them drifted pleasantly through my mind, for I’d seen them all many times in daylight, along with the tough, dry weeds that survived in the rock-bed between rugged ties, and I’d inhaled the strange, oily atmosphere. So, on the night of my dream, if it really was and is a dream, I wasn’t surprised when I noticed the shadowy presence of a man with a lantern beside my bed, between the window and where I lay. I knew immediately he belonged with the train. What I didn’t know was why he was dressed completely in black, and wearing a long cloak and top hat. The lantern was dim. I couldn’t see his face. But I could see the end of his burning cigarette, which brightened each time he inhaled. There was no smoke that I can recall. He was patient. He was calm. He didn’t seem to be watching me. I think he was simply listening to the night, just as I was, and had found a good place to do it in. Maybe he recognized me as someone who understood, and felt as he did, that there was something sacred and unnamable that existed only at that late hour. I wasn’t frightened at all. I didn’t chase him away by calling out to my parents. That could be why, after all these years, he still hasn’t deserted me.
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Tags: Beethoven, Childhood, Cigarettes, Crickets, Dinuba, Dreams, Frogs, Fruit, Lanterns, Listening, Marbles, Memory, Music, Night, Our Old Farm, Smoke, Summer, The San Joaquin Valley