When we were kids, my brother and I spent all day playing outside with the other neighbourhood boys. When it wasn't soccer, it often meant the 'ștrec', a deep embankment on either side of the train tracks that crossed Blaj from one end to the other. The ștrec was headquarters. That's where most of our games started or ended. We were soldiers, cowboys or indians, hunters, explorers, and, best of all, we were spectators to one of the greatest spectacles of all: the thundering passing of trains.
|The ștrec today is smaller and more overgrown|
The Rapid (now InterCity), especially, was a joy to behold. It would fly by in a blur of grey and blue, holding the promise of far away places that were as inaccessible as Coca-Cola or Juicy Fruit.
Three of us (my brother and I and another kid) were practicing karate moves on the embankment a little ways from our usual spot. We had just finished watching Bruce Lee's Fists Of Fury and today we were all Bruce Lee. We practiced high kicks, roundhouse kicks, flying kicks. We play acted the most spectacular scenes, trying not to kick each others' heads off. Then, alongside our Bruce Lee yelps, we heard the shrill horn of an approaching train and stopped to watch as the Rapid locomotive came into view.
Maybe we waved as it flew by, maybe we didn't, but from the last car there came a hail of colourful objects that landed at our feet and in the grass around us. It was candy. Candy that we'd never heard of, or seen, or tasted before. I'm fairly certain there was a stick of Juicy Fruit, and there was caramel, and some hard candy that tasted like real fruit. We were so excited that I can tell you what winning the lottery feels like. We split the loot into three and ran home to show our parents.
My mother thought the train might've been from Czechoslovakia. I don't know and probably never will. But in case you're reading this and you remember throwing a handful of candy to three urchins playing on a railway embankment, your gesture will never be forgotten. It was one of the best days of my life.
I'm sharing the story because it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the cover photo of this PressOne article (very much worth the read). And although we didn't live on an isolated mountaintop, far from the basic conveniences of city life, we were far from taking for granted the all the things that we have now. What's more, it's a good reminder how, in time, all past difficulties (or triumphs) become little more than a blur, much like the trains I used to watch.
I hope that the little boy in the picture gets the opportunity to reach the same conclusion some day.