My strongest sense is smell. I have so many memories that get triggered by scents, real and imagined. But every once in a while a piece of music can do that for me, too. At church on Sunday, the offertory took me back to the summer of 1976, a pretty unexpected mental trip!
I was 9 years old, living in a small little town in the middle of Michigan. My baby sister had just been born, it was summer, I had a bike, so I pretty much had all the freedom I could ask for. This was back in the day when kids’ time wasn’t scheduled to the last minute. My brother and I would ride for miles in all direction. We’d go to the river a couple of miles north of us to go wading, or out to the Hush Puppy factory to steal bits of leather, or up to the cemetery to race down the giNORmous hill (Ben wiped out more than I did, but I took my falls.)
The biggest thing Reed City had going for it was the fact that it was the crossroads of two railroads, one running north/south and the other going east/west. It’s how the town got its start. There were tracks and sidings all over the place. We learned that if you put a coin on the track, when you went back the next day it would be squished flat. Much more exciting to do it that way than in one of those crank machines at tourist traps.
But that summer, the tracks brought the Art Train.
I think my dad took me the first time. It was parked on the siding over behind the Yoplait factory, three beautiful train cars just sitting there. My family has a long history with trains (my mother’s father was a railway postman), so getting to go on one for any reason was exciting.
But this one was filled with art. Real art. Museum quality art.
I wasn’t a complete hick. We’d been to museums before, but mostly history museums. I don’t know that I’d ever been to an art museum at that point. Which of course was the point of the Artrain project, to bring art to smaller communities that didn’t have their own museums.
I was entranced.
The tour started with a movie about all sorts of art, with a backing track of classical music I hadn’t heard before. Every time I hear Satie, I’m instantly 9 and wide eyed again.
I can’t even tell you now what the pieces were they displayed. I think there was a Mondrian, and Tiffany glass, and Calder. I couldn’t tell you what was actually present and what was in that movie. I can tell you that I rode my bike back there every day for the whole two weeks the train was there, just staring at everything and feeling the world open up for me.
Reed City has of course changed since then. The Yoplait factory is still there, but in a different location. The east/west train line is now a rail trail (if we knew it came out near our favorite ice cream parlor, I think Ben and I might have walked along it a lot further than we ever did!).
But to my surprise, the Artrain program still exists.
It was envisioned as a short term project that has now been going on for over 40 years. I’m so glad. I hope some other small town kid has the same kind of epiphany I did all those years ago.
I may need to take the kids to the art museum this weekend…