The Uncle I Never Knew

My father Donald Gerald Fairchild grew up in Corry, a small town in northwest Pennsylvania. The family was poor, but my grandfather Arthur labored hard at a job with the railroads. At that time Corry was an important railroad junction in the area. Life was tough and they lived a spartan existence in a house at the top of Church Street. The family had few possessions, so the kids grew up playing outside. At some point Arthur returned from work with a tricycle and gave it to the youngest child, Johnny, as a belated birthday gift. My dad, a year older, often fought and argued with Johnny over the use of the tricycle. As kids are wont to do, fights break out over small things.

On a hot summer day, the older boys (my uncle Paul and uncle Bub) decided they wanted to go swimming at a spot about two miles from the house. The swimming hole was located in a stream that flowed beneath a high railroad trestle. The high embankment on the near side made it difficult to get into the water from that side, so the boys had to cross the trestle to the far side in order to get down to the water.

Sometime after their departure, my Dad asked permission to go to the swimming hole. Not wanting to be left behind, Johnny followed. By the time they reached the swimming hole, my Dad was some distance ahead of Johnny. He crossed the trestle and was making his way down the embankment as Johnny started across the trestle. Midway across a train approached the trestle in full steam. The conductor blew the whistle and Johnny froze. My dad and his brothers yelled for him to jump into the water, but the height was too high. Dad told me that Johnny covered his eyes as the train slammed into him. He was thrown into the concrete abutment and his body fell into the water. Paul and Bub pulled Johnny out of the water, but there was nothing they could do. Johnny was gone.

Dad always felt remorse. Perhaps he should have waited and walked with Johnny. In retrospect, he could have done many things to change what happened. But that’s life. We don’t always get a second chance.

Dad said that he did not play with that tricycle much after that. That was Johnny’s.

Sometimes death brings life into perspective.

Several years ago as I was looking through family pictures, I found this one. It may be the last picture we have of Johnny. He was four years old at his death. My dad is next to him on the right with my aunt Vivian and grandmother Leora. Next to them is the house on Church Street . . . and the tricycle.

I used to go to that railroad trestle to sit and think about what happened. There is no marker at the site and I doubt that anyone today knows what happened there. But for me, there’s still blood in the water.

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