Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rollin' with the 'R"s

Ferrocarril Nacional General San Martín - oooh, how I loved to say those words, trilling my 'R"s for whole breaths.
Ferrocarril Nacional General Bartolomé Mitre. Give me a phrase with "R"s in it and I could twill like a bird. I was 6 years old. I spoke Spanish as well as the Argentine children did. I was so cool!

Ferrocarril Nacional General San Martín was the train line that ran from Buenos Aires through our town. In this era, the train system was nationalized, and the trains were a model of super efficiency. The only times the train stopped were during a revolution or a train wreck.

This was train wreck - about 3 blocks from our house.

By the time he was 10 years old, my brother Iilya was a master train rider. His favorite past time was catching a ride out to the pampas and then sneaking home late. My brother went to great lengths to keep my parents from knowing of his adventures - and I (his little sister) was sworn to great secrecy. Usually Iliya's trips went according to plan, but not always.

This photo is of Iilya and me (in my Heide skirt) with a friend. The train station was at the end of our street. The tracks divided our town - the uber rich lived on the correct side of the tracks. We didn't. 

Iilya's allowance did not allow for the purchase of many train tickets, so he had to find creative ways to earn money. And since my folks couldn't know he was earning money to spend on train riding, most of his 'jobs' were done in total secrecy. His best earnings usually occurred when he would dress as a blind armless child and sell pencils. Iilya made a pitiful helpless child.

Iilya's train riding career was blossoming. He decided to map out a long adventure - out to the town of Corcoran. To me it was light years away - to Iilya, it would be a full day adventure. He planned it for some unknown Sunday, one where my parents would sleep in late, nursing hangovers and avoiding not only church, but us kids, too. Iilya made concessions for me. I could play with his electric train-set and stuff my troll dolls in the cattle cars as much as I liked - I just had to cover for him on the appointed day.

The drive was on for Iilya to earn lots of money. He emptied both our bookbags, hunting for all the pencils we had. On this Saturday morning, he rode into Buenos Aires to beg at the subway entrance. The subway entrances were weather protected and usually a common place for money-earning children.

Iilya wore one of my dad's flannel shirts WITH  the left sleeve rolled up. His left arm was tucked inside, hidden from site. Iilya had on dark glasses, a frayed hat (also from my dad's collection), and a cup full of pencils. He was quite a site, sitting on the subway steps ignoring the passing adults who filled his cup with pesos. I knew he was quite a site because I saw him. You see, this was the day my mom dragged me into BA to do some shopping. She took me on the Ferrocarril Nacional General San Martín to downtown Buenos Aires where we caught the subway to Avenida Florida. Mom was the hunt for some new guantes - gloves- for that evening's party. Mom and I walked into the subway entrance, passing a young blind armless child. My brother - her Iilya.


Mom calmly walked over to the child, her son. She put several pesos in his cup, removed one pencil, and turned to me. "Remind me top put this in your bookbag when we get home," she said as she pocketed the instrument in her purse. And off we progressed to Avenida Florida, on the search for her new gloves.

Iilya was home when Mom and I got back that afternoon. Iilya only whispered that he was "rich". The trip to Corcoran would be tomorrow, while the folks slept off their party. And I could play with his train set, stuffing my trolls into the cattle cars.

Next morning when I awoke, Iilya was gone. I played 'trolls in trains' until I grew bored. I made a peanut butter sandwich. I pulled out the dictionary and looked for every word with multiple 'r's to practice saying outloud. I ate Dulce de leche right out of the jar. I made a pot of mate and sucked it through the metal straw. I was bored. And my parents slept.

Iilya was anything but bored. He was long on his way to Corcoran. Until his journey was ruined. About 2 p.m., our home phone rang. It was the Corcoran police...

Iilya didn't ride the train home from Corcoran. In fact, I don't really think he sat down for a week or two. My mom gave me the pencil she picked up from that little blind armless child in the subway station. And life went on.

Iilya took up Little League baseball.

He was a pretty good pitcher and no longer had time to ride trains.


I soon earned my first fountain pen and no longer required pencils in my bookbag.


Patrina said...

Very cute story, Brenda! Thanks for sharing. I loved the ending too. :)

Patrina <')>><

altadenahiker said...

And look at how beautifully his arm grew back.

(I hestitate to ask his current profession. But must know.)

Brenda's Arizona said...

Karin, he'd be very unhappy if I told you...

Jo said...

Omigosh, what a great story...! Goodness!

That photo of you and your brother and a friend looking down the tracks is a prize-winning photograph.

Carol said...

I enjoyed this story, Brenda, and the vintage photos as well.

Diane AZ said...

Great story! Your brother was so adventurous and you were a nice sister to cover for him. :)

Tash said...

Not only a WONDERFUL story but a grand tale of adventure told oh, so well. And it evokes a different time & place. And it reminds me of various incidents from childhood - but what ingenuity by your brother, and what a good little sister you were. The pictures are must be so glad to have them.

altadenahiker said...

How's your own arm growing back? Are you in a cast yet?

Brenda's Arizona said...

My hand is to be casted tomorrow, hopefully. Still hugely swollen. My brother's missing arm did reappear and it caused more trouble in India, when he nearly lost it on the high school baseball field.

thanks for asking - and esp. thanks to everyone for your comments. I will be SO HAPPY when I can type/drive/shower/sleep like a normal person again.