“I want to go to Grandfather’s Mansion now!” shouted Corey.
“No, that place is creepy,” I complained. “It’s hard to stand up in there.”
“How about I take you on a train ride while they do the creepy stuff,” suggested Jacki.
“Okay!” I agreed.
I had never actually been on the train before, but always wanted to go. It only ran at intermittent times and my parents had never had the patience to wait for the next departure.
“I’ll go with you two,” said Mom. “You boys can go do whatever you want. Meet us at noon for lunch at Molly’s Mill Restaurant.
And off we went to the Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train. The smell of funnel cakes filled the streets. I loved funnel cake and Mom had gotten a recipe to make them at home, and while they were a close second, they never quite satisfied my watering mouth like the ones at Silver Dollar City. I realized how hungry I was getting.
“Can we get a funnel cake?” I asked Mom.
“No, it’s almost lunchtime. Let’s wait,” she answered.
“Okay, but don’t forget,” I said. “Can I just have funnel cake instead of lunch?”
“No, you need to eat lunch. We’ll get some before we leave,” she laughed.
NEXT DEPARTURE – 10:40 A.M., the clock read as we approached the train.
“Hurry!” Mom said. “It’s about to leave.”
We rushed to the gates and pleaded with the conductor to let us aboard.
“Hold up!” he yelled. “We have three pretty little ladies who would like to join us.”
The gates opened and we hopped aboard the train. We found open seats next to a group of teenage boys. One whispered something to his friend and they gave each other a devilish grin as they glanced at my sister, Jacki smiled and flipped her long hair behind her shoulder as she took her seat.
“Do you know those boys?” I whispered loudly to my sister.
“Shhh, no,” she answered.
“Then why are they staring at you?” I asked.
“Hush, the ride is about to start,” she said.
“But I think they know you!” I insisted.
“Please, Patti. Hush!” she pleaded.
“Welcome to Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train. Please keep your arms and legs inside the train at all times,” said the conductor over a loud speaker.
The train began rolling through the lush hills of the Ozarks. From my seat, I could see miles and miles of trees, stretched tightly over the small mountains.
“To your left, you’ll see…trees,” said the conductor. “And to your right, you’ll see…more trees.”
The audience giggled. A small breeze swept across my face and it felt relaxing, yet potentially very boring, to sit back and enjoy the pleasant ride. Mom was smiling and I could tell it was just the break she needed.
“What’s your name?” one of the boys asked my sister.
“Jacki,” she said with a shy smile.
“Oo-oo-ooo, Jackie Blue,” sang one of the other boys. The group laughed at his quick wit.
Jacki rolled her eyes at their sophomoric banter. I had heard my sister listening to Jackie Blue on her stereo in her bedroom many times, but I didn’t know everyone else knew the song too.
“My sister listens to that song all the time,” I announced, which sent the boys into a fit of laughter and serenading.
“Patti, be still,” reprimanded my mom. “Come over here and sit by me.”
“I think my friend likes you,” the boy said to my sister as the boys continued singing. “Hides that smile when she’s wearing a frown, oo-oo Jackie, you’re not so down.”
“Well, I already have a boyfriend,” she said as she flashed her boyfriend’s class ring, wrapped tediously in yellow yarn. I remember the night Jacki got that ring. She was so excited and spent at least an hour threading the yarn through the large ring, sizing it just right for her tiny finger.
“Oh, ouch!” he exclaimed.
Jacki rose from her seat and took a spot next to Mom and me, turning her back on the obnoxious attention she was rousing from the boys.
Suddenly, the train came to a complete stop.
“What happened?” I asked.
The conductor hopped off of the train.
“We’re being hijacked!” I heard one of the boys say.
“Mom, what does hijacked mean?” I asked. I was getting scared. Hijacked was a word I’d heard on TV shows like The Rockford Files and Quincy Jones, MD, and it was never supported by scenes suitable for children to watch.
“See those guys with guns? They’re outlaws and they’re holding up the train,” explained Mom.
“What?!” I exclaimed.
“Shh, shh, listen,” whispered Mom.
I could barely make out what they were saying.
“We are brothers, Alphie and Ralphie Bowlin,” one said. “And this is a stick up!”
The conductor had obviously come across these misfits before.
“Haven’t I told you boys you can’t rob my train?” said the conductor. He continued a verbal war with one of them while the other walked alongside the train.
I didn’t hear the rest of the conversation because I was focused on the second outlaw who had just boarded the train.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen,” said the Bowlin brother. “I would ask that you remove all gold, silver and fine jewels from your possession and deposit them right here in my hat. That includes jewelry, coins, even fillings in your teeth.”
Passengers searched their pockets for coins and tossed them into the hat. Suddenly, I heard a gunshot outside of the train and saw the conductor holding his butt in pain. The other Bowlin brother had shot him! This was serious.
The conductor howled in pain while the Bowlin brothers laughed at his comical dance, hopping from one foot to the other to relieve the pain.
“Now, what’d ya have to go and do that for?” whined the conductor.
“Mom, don’t give him all our money,” I whispered. “Hide some of it.”
Mom pulled out three nickels and gave my sister and me each one to place into the hat. I stared at my shoes the entire time, not wanting to make eye contact with the robber.
“You!” he said to one of the teenage boys who had harassed my sister. “I know your momma gave you more money than that. Now come on, give it up.”
The boy searched his pocket and pulled out another coin. The other boys chuckled.
“What are you boys laughing at?” asked the outlaw. “Now that’s gonna cost ya. Come on, empty your pockets before I empty them for ya.”
I continued staring at my feet. I studied the ratty shoestrings in my discount Converse replicas and noticed one shoe was laced tighter than the other. The shoes were hand-me-downs from my sister, Vicki, whose feet were smaller than most third-graders. They were worn and filthy and the strings had long since lost the plastic tips that made it easy to lace your shoes.
I saw the outlaw’s boots walk right past me. My whole body trembled. I wanted to close my eyes and make it all go away.
Soon the Bowlin brothers reunited on the train and thanked the passengers for their participation. Audience members laughed and shook hands with the outlaws as they exited the train. Confused, I looked at my mom for answers.
Mom smiled and giggled. “It was a just an act,” she said. “They aren’t real outlaws.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
Mom did her best to convince me it was a set-up between bouts of laughter.
I gave her a stern look and turned away to pout. I had been duped.