Breland: Train voyages into amazing journeys

Published 9:52 am Friday, August 13, 2021

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It was a very warm day while on vacation in Branson, Mo. We were looking for something to do and stay cool at the same time.

“Let’s ride the train,” I told Rob. Since we were in the old town at that time, it seemed the thing to do. He agreed and it proved a great place to cool off.

Since this has been so long ago, I don’t actually remember anything astounding we saw as we passed by a river and then almost all woods as we traveled over the tracks — a little boring, but into the woods is where trains go! I leaned back in my chair to relax and was thinking about my parents, as both had died in the year before we made this trip.

My mind settled on our dad and how long it had taken us to grieve for him. He came to our thoughts often. Dad died in May, and about the same time Mom had a stroke. It took all of us to care for her at home until she died in October. We had little time to stop and really grieve for Dad until both were gone.

The overhead music began to play “Danny Boy” and I was brought to tears. Fiddlers were presenting it beautifully. Along with “Amazing Grace,” that Irish song was Dad’s favorite to hear and the fiddle an instrument he was passionate about. He had refinished many fiddles during the years and had even learned to play some tunes.

How hauntingly strange it was for that fiddle tune to be played while I was thinking of him. When I remember, it still brings some tears.

Last week I was watching “Great Scenic Railroads” on the PBS channel and it made me recall my dad and his connection with trains.

As our parents aged, we asked both if there was anything they wanted to do that we could arrange. Mom was good with most anything, but Dad almost immediately answered that he had not ridden a train since he was a boy and would like to go on a train ride.

For several years he had collected arrowheads from all around the area and along with an old family tale about some Native American ancestry in the family, we decided to take him on a train ride to Tuscaloosa, Ala., which is close to an old Native American site called Moundville.

We boarded the train in Slidell and rode to Tuscaloosa, with two family members traveling in a van to pick us up. Dad thoroughly enjoyed the train ride and we met many people on the train. He enjoyed chatting with them. He really loved that ride!

The Moundville site was occupied from around A.D. 1000 until A.D. 1450, on the Black Warrior River. The community was once a 300-acre village built on a bluff overlooking the river.

Nobody understands why the very populated village was eventually abandoned, but some of the large mounds are still found over the area. We were able to climb the mounds and to visit in some of the places of living and worship, which have been recreated on the site.

One building held some uncovered old graves of the ancient residents, but these have now been covered as requested by Native American tribes. It was such an interesting place; one of the enjoyable times we had with our parents while on this train trip.

While traveling to visit the Smoky Mountains, those interested in southern Native American culture may want stop for a visit at Moundville. Many go to Cherokee, so this would be a village to visit without live Native Americans, but a nice stop. Moundville is noted by signs on the interstate.

Things continue to change. Like Native American tribes, train riding seems to be gradually sinking into the past. Ours were amazing journeys.

Bob Ann Breland can be reached by email at