“Hurry up, Richard, or we’ll miss the trolley.” Mother tightens her grip on my hand and tugs me up the hill on 68th Street. “Imagine the fun we’ll have.”
I squint from the bright morning sun, reflected off the orange and black streetcar that sits at the top of the hill. Wells Street trolley will transport us to downtown Milwaukee for our weekly shopping trip. I grab the chrome railing, hot from summer sun of car number 10, and climb three steps to the coach.
“Fare please,” the motorman says. Mother removes her white cotton gloves. She drops the token she has gripped in her left hand into the fare box and guides me forward with her right. Crunch, I sink into the yellow wicker seat, enveloped in an earthen odor of dried grass and sweat.
All seats face east, the direction of travel. The trolley silently lurches forward as electric energy flows from the overhead power line into the dynamo engine that propels the car to our destination.
“It’s stuffy in here,” Mother says. She reaches to lower the transom window. Thud, the window drops open. “There, now we can smell lake breezes.”
Instead of wet, sweet fragrance of Lake Michigan, I sense nitrogen and sulfur from electric sparks, as the streetcar’s power transom fights to stay in contact with the overhead energy line.
“35th Street,” the motorman announces. I stand.
“No, not yet.” Mother pulls me back into the seat. “ We’ll be there soon.”
A blue sea of workmen, their bare arms poking through overalls, board the trolley and flow to open seats. I stare at the back of the neck of the man in front of me. His skin glistens like the trolley’s wicker seat. On the back of his seat that faces me, is a sweat-stained shadow of many workmen who have sat there before.
“13th Street, stock yards,” the motorman turns toward the sea of overalls that flow off the streetcar.
“There, that’s better,” Mother says and closes the window.
“Third Street, everyone off.” The motorman walks to the back of the trolley that will become the front of the streetcar on the westbound return trip. As he walks, he flips the back of each seat to face west.
“Let’s help the motorman,” Mother suggests.
I struggle to push the heavy seatback for westbound travel. Clunk, the seatback faces me. Shadows of yesterday’s workmen march into memory.
“Daddy, I want a new toy truck,” I say.
Dad looks down at me. His wingtip shoes shine in the morning sun. “Why?” He asks.
“I want to play construction with a truck in the sandbox.”
“You have a truck.”
“No I don’t.”
“Yes you do. Let me show you.”
Dad kneels beside me. His blue, pinstriped trousers depress the sand beneath his knees. He holds my right hand and guides my palm across the sand. I feel the sand’s dampness. As Dad pushes my hand, waves of sand flow to each side. Like a boat creates a wake on both sides of its path through a lake, sand forms curbs on a flattened roadbed beneath my palm.
“Varoom,” Dad says as he releases my hand. “Do you hear the truck’s motor? I have to leave for work now.”
He stands and brushes sand from his trousers. Wet circles over his knees show his love. “Have fun with your new truck.”
I wave goodbye and return to play. Varoom, my truck moves across the sandbox to pick up a load. My left hand, now a steam shovel, drops sand onto the back of my right. I haul my load to build a city, in a distant world, on the other side of the sandbox. Varoom.
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.