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An Excerpt from Train of Thought
Posted June 21, 2013 by David L. Tucker

  • "I am passionate about creative work that explores, entertains and illuminates."
    - David L. Tucker
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Andrew Eden survived a hurricane and a train wreck. Then he was born and life became more difficult. Andrew’s parents lived just outside the sleepy village of Agincourt, Ontario, before the multi-lanes and suburban flotsam washed over the town’s Norman Rockwell barber shop, Victorian steeple and century-old general store. The largely Protestant hamlet changed little until the evening of October 15, 1954, when, almost to the day 539 years after its French namesake had been invaded by the English, Hurricane Hazel rained and conquered. Before the night was over, the town’s creeks and rivers had risen over their banks, roads were washed out, trees toppled and homes were swept away. Andrew’s mother, Margaret Eden, had gone into labour with Andrew at six p.m., a mere hour ahead of the mighty Hazel’s arrival. Andrew’s father, John, hadn’t been listening to weather reports. As he bundled his wife into the backseat of the family’s faded green ‘47 Austin A40, his sole concern was getting his wife and their unborn child to the hospital.
John had met Margaret Sims through mutual friends after the war. Smitten with her beauty, he summoned up the courage to propose within weeks of their first meeting. To his surprise and delight, she had accepted. Margaret knew John’s university degree could provide the keys to a better home than the Depression- era shack she lived in with her older, spinster sister, Dorothy, and widower father, Edward. After Margaret’s mother had died from cancer five years earlier, Edward Sims was left to raise his two teenage daughters while struggling to find odd jobs after the war. To complicate matters, Dorothy suffered from chronic respiratory disease. Unable to work and plain in appearance, her prospects for marriage were slim. That task would have to fall to the young and vivacious Margaret. In the late Forties, this meant giving up her secretarial job and dreams of becoming a concert pianist, but after spending her whole life in a two-room shack with an oil stove and outdoor toilet, Margaret did what she had to do. The tired Austin chugged resentfully to life and backed out of the cozy garage adjoining the Edens’ im- maculate pink and white bungalow, into the pouring rain. Before the car reached the main road, its leaky sunroof was dripping icy water down Mr. Eden’s neck. He struggled to see the road ahead by means of the tiny wipers and dim, yellowy headlamps. Already, the rain was coming down with blinding force but with his wife expecting at any moment and still miles from the nearest hospital, John Eden pressed on, reaching the steep slope leading to the railway tracks in record time. In those days, many country railway crossings still lacked barricades or flashing lights. Motorists sim- ply accelerated and prayed for the best. However, John was an atheist, the consequence of exposure to radical views at university—a conversion that had not sat well with his Methodist father.
“Believing for the sake of believing makes no sense,” John had argued stubbornly. “Either you know or you don’t know.” Lacking John’s debating skills, his father had responded by cutting off his son’s financial aid. This had caused a permanent rift between them and even Margaret’s pregnancy did little to mend the relationship. Years later in a final acrimonious act, John left his father’s grave unmarked. Few meteorologists were expecting Hazel to reach Ontario as a full-blown hurricane. Originally, with winds reaching upward of 155 miles per hour, it had cut a swath of destruction through the southern United States, killing hundreds and leaving thousands more homeless, but as it moved northward from the Caroli- nas, Hazel began to lose strength and the assumption was that it would devolve into just a bad storm before it reached Canada. That was before it crossed the bor- der, collided with another unstable air mass and set off an atmospheric meltdown. Hazel was just approaching Agincourt as the Edens headed out. The A40 was sputtering up the steep hill when it promptly stalled, coasting to a stop on the slippery railway tracks. Cursing, Mr. Eden tried to arouse the now- lifeless motor. The A40 was prone to cantankerousness, inevitably at the most inconvenient of times. With each successive try of the ignition, the old battery only grew weaker, the carburetors more flooded. The torrential rain hit the car like a hail of well aimed bullets. Mr. Eden threw open the creaky driver’s side door and promptly sank into the soggy mud underfoot. Fumbling around in the dark, he eventually excavated a hand crank lodged deep within the car’s rusty trunk. Growing anxious, his clothes soaked to the skin, Mr. Eden inserted the crank into the upright chromium grille. He gave the handle a cautious turn, mindful that it could recoil and break his wrist at any moment. Instead, it fell limp in his hand. A second and third try produced only a painful twitch in John’s lower back. He tried pushing, but the car was firmly lodged between the slippery railway trestles. At that instant, Margaret let out a scream from the backseat. John turned. Coming straight toward them out of a B movie was the dim but unmistakable light of the 6:25.
Until that prescient moment, Andrew’s father had lived a quiet and largely uneventful life. An insurance broker since 1948, John had been posted to the West Coast in Radar during the war. While his surviving buddies returned to tell harrowing tales of bravery and sacrifice overseas, John was left to mumble about long evenings watching a screen for an enemy that never came. As the de facto breadwinner for Margaret’s family, John Eden had paid a heavy price for his beautiful bride. When he was a young man, he had longed for adventure, to travel the world and write poetry. Instead, he’d traded his dreams for the steady-but-dull insurance job in the city. Later, he was promoted to branch manager, but there his career had stalled like the A40. The train driver could see the wet glint of the old Austin and was frantically sounding the diesel horn. It was a sound that John knew well. It was coming from the very same commuter train that he travelled home on each evening. But this night, its familiar note was blaring and menacing, the train’s blinding headlamp illuminating a family in crisis. Desperately, John pulled his wife and unborn child from the hapless Austin and cleared the tracks, moments before the crunch of steel on steel was heard reverberating across the open fields. ♦♦♦ It was now Andrew’s forty-ninth birthday. He sat alone staring absently at the TV, as a perky VJ rambled on...