This is the first installment of a story I am writing about my uncle.
In the railroad switchyards on the south end of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, a ten-year-boy surveys the boxcars of each freight train waiting in the yard for the signal to proceed. In some of the cars he finds hobos who have set up temporary, mobile homes among the freight. Some are so packed full of dry goods that he is unable to fit even a hand or a foot inside. Some are empty. Some are filled just enough to give a small boy ample hiding room.
The boy finds a couple of suitable candidates. One is on a northbound track, and the other is southbound. He knows his geography. Southbound trains are headed for Little Rock and eventually on to Dallas. Northbound trains are headed for St. Louis and Chicago. But along the way, switches can happen. A train might divert eastward to Nashville, or it might continue westward from St. Louis and head to Kansas City and Denver.
The boy takes a step toward the southbound train. “I wonder where it is going,” he thinks.
He finds a half-empty boxcar, and he climbs aboard.