It sat on a shelf in the garage of our house on Teagues South Road. A newly married couple. Their first house. Family friends lived across the road and Mom and Dad a few miles away. A dream home for this young couple. The toy sat upon a shelf in the garage.
Most of the time I felt safe living back the lane on Neff Road, except for the times when Dad grabbed the shotgun and dashed out the door. An invisible hand clinched my stomach until Dad came back in again. Usually some varmint was trying to get eggs or the fat hen who laid them. A fox. A raccoon. An old barn owl. I like chicken and eggs, and so did they. Dad wasn’t about to share. There were times, however, when Dad thought that the varmint might just have two legs. Once in a while someone would dump something in the creek. A couple of times someone had stolen gasoline out of the gas tank that sat back by the chicken house. Pretty nervy if you ask me. Dad was ready.
We didn’t lock the house back then. Everyone trusted everyone else in the community. It was a thing called respect. Trust that a neighbor wouldn’t cheat you. And, for the most part, life continued that way peacefully. The keys were in the ignition in the car in the driveway. No tools were locked away. And, by the same token, it was a time when no one talked about problems or bad things that happened in their families. We never knew if a wife and children were beaten. We never knew if a child was molested. It was a time of ‘never airing your laundry’.
Sometimes if a young man got into trouble, perhaps stealing something, he was given the choice between jail and the military. Often to compensate a farmer, he would be made to work for that same farmer. More than likely he got a pretty good ‘lickin’ when he got home.
Trust. It was a thing I was brought up to believe in. It kept me a little naive. Moving to the city showed me a new side to humanity. It showed me what was lurking outside of Neff Road and probably often in that same community. I was just 18 when my new co-worker bought dead bolts for my door. I learned the rules of driving alone at night. I learned that not everything is as safe as it seems.
Then I married. We moved into our sweet, first house. A house that rambled with backrooms, coal room and attached garage. We could lock the house but not the coal room and backroom. Since my new husband was a town boy who knew the ropes, we locked the house. Stored in the old garage were things we had to still unpack. On a shelf sat three cast iron train cars. Only one engine was complete. It was a treasure. My husband and I both worked and came home late in the day. Weekends were the only times we went to the garage. And, as you have probably guessed, someone had stolen the little engine. I lost my trust in the neighborhood that came and went around our house.
My little grandson loves to play with the two broken cars. He always notices that the wheels are missing, yet he still lines them up and plays choo-choo. Each time my heart aches that I cannot give him the little engine that we loved. I wonder at the person who took it, thinking it sat on that shelf for his or her taking. Somewhere it sits on a shelf or in the hands of another child….a stolen toy.
Life was not always as it seemed on Neff Road as with any neighborhood. Yet we try to think the best of people. I know that no community is immune. I don’t live in fear, but I live with an awareness of my surroundings and the safety of my home and family. We teach children about strangers, and by our example, we show them how to be safe. The little engine and the thief taught me a life lesson. They taught me that not everything was safe on Neff Road.