His grandfather loved trains. He had a shelf of books about them. He had a model train set in the cellar that rivaled any you could find in a museum or fair. He often started stories about bulls and campfires that trailed off, circled around the room, and landed with a rough calloused hand through his hair. "Someday, I'll tell you all about that."
His grandfather died before he got a chance to tell the story, but there were a million stories hidden in the cellar. There was a giant wooden box full of hundreds of night-crawlers. There were old things that he would find poking around when his grandfather was making the rounds, sharing a beer with his friends. There were tools he spent hours trying to decipher. There was a sap, although he didn't know what it was called at the time - he knew what it was for. Woven leather around a lead ball. He tried to imagine his grandfather hitting someone and he couldn't. He held it in his hand and heard train whistles through the corridors of time. Wheels rattling the tracks.
It was a small house, but it was full of treasures. There was a perfect replica of a sabre, but tiny, used to open letters. The plumbing was iffy and the cellar flooded in the rain. He could barely tolerate the non-fat dry milk with ice cubes that he drank to be polite. The wonder outweighed the sagging mattresses and blue milk.
His father's room had been maintained because of the death. Going inside his father's room was like discovering King Tut's tomb. Old toys and pocket knives and books - god, the books. There was a series called "The Book of Knowledge". Volumes designed for children. They taught everything from how to tie knots, to how to survive in the wild, to how to cross-stitch. And they were filled with stories.
There were other books, too. Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys and Chip Hilton. He read them all and he read 'Wyatt Earp' over and over again. He broke some of the toys, but no one criticized him. There were still clothes hanging in the closet. A few pairs of pants and a stack of shirts. The whole house was spartan, but the things that were there were precious. He spent hours going through the drawers in the kitchen. Old matchbooks and souvenirs from all over the northeast.
Most of all, he liked to look through the tackle boxes. His grandfather was a simple fisherman, but he was not immune to the angler's obsession. There were lures and flies and many of them were homemade. Some, the shiny ones still in the boxes, were like trophies. His grandfather never used them and never would.
In hindsight, it is astounding that they could still live in the house. That they weren't always looking for phantom bloodstains. His grandmother never went upstairs. Into the 'boys' room'. It was a house filled with joy and the lingering smell of pipe tobacco. There was nothing in the house that was less than ten years old. It would never change, and there was something about that. A warm feeling.
But the years passed and the stairs to the cellar creaked louder...his grandmother fell once, and before he knew it the house had been sold. The nonsense treasures he had found vanished. His grandparents moved into an apartment across from the High School and later a home. The trains were given to friends and fellow enthusiasts.
He still drives by the house, but it brings, alternately, a sense of sadness and a sense of betrayal. He is just beginning to understand that time betrays us all.