I guess it took being confined to a cabin in the woods of Tennessee to really comprehend the stories Pampy told. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Several of the old fella’s stories are on repeat and shuffle, so my family and I, we know these stories. We have happily humored the repetition of these tales with respectful nods and doctored chuckles for quite some time now. We all have, and do love him undoubtedly; but nonetheless, you can only hear the same story so many times before complacent boredom is the only response.
Sometimes though, in an instant, a moment can change, and the gravity of what is being told outweighs anything else that may be going on. The flicker of a distant memory can trigger the outpour of many of life’s unscripted moments. Listening is an art that requires practice, and in moments such as those, the record button needs to be on. Our minds don’t always tell us what our ears hear. Fortunately enough, my grandpa, Pampy, has a booming voice that can grip the heart from time to time.
One sunny afternoon, on a Christmas trip to Gatlinburg, I grabbed a seat next to the 83 year old fella I call, my Pampy. The view of a weather worn mountain range was enough for the old Dutchman to find solace. With his thick dialect, a subtle remark can grab the attention of an entire room. The familiarity he felt with the place he had found himself, brought on a reminiscent sigh. He has a presence that he is keenly aware of, and a playful smirk that can result in a heavy burst of hiccups for entire crouds.
His spirits were high that day. He felt the happy energy of a gathered family. It wasn’t long before the stories began. He typically would start with the tales about coming to America for a job at a metropolitan hospital. Other times he would tell of an old dog on Aires Rd. that would hop the fence all the way to the local butcher. However, on this particular day, he told one of my favorites. The tale of his glacier adventure with a fellow Dutchmen he met on the train, and an English soldier. He always starts it at the train station.
It wasn’t his first train ride. He had been on plenty of trains. When he was young his family used the spur* when they needed to travel for supplies. The sudden rush of air as the train tore though the valleys and tunnels always gave the young pampi’s heart a startle. It wasn’t even the excitement of being in Paris that had him anxious with joy. He had been to Paris several times with his father in fact. This trip was something different though. Reservations had been arranged at a small chalet in Les Houches (a small town south of Geneva.) After a shared visit with local family, Pampy and his father part ways, and the adventure began
*a short branch rail line.