Monday, April 18, 2011

Waiting for the 'Black Diamond'



Eastbound "Black Diamond" at Geneva, March, 1959.

(From the Finger Lakes Times, Geneva, N.Y., December 17, 1984)
   They've torn down the old Lehigh Valley railroad overpass on Genesee Street here in Geneva. That brought back some old, less-than-glowing memories of the Lehigh Valley depot just off Genesee.
    My family lived in Seneca Falls and my maiden aunt lived in Dover, Del. She and my mother grew up in Yates County and we still had family in Bellona, where my grandfather and my uncle and his wife lived.
    So, Aunt Helen would gather around her family on holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and during the summer. She seldom drove during the inclement seasons, being a spinster and not too confident of her driving abilities and the road and weather conditions. This is the '30s and '40s we're talking about.
    She'd opt for the Lehigh Valley from Wilmington* (she'd drive or be driven by auto that far). She had a "gentleman" friend as they were called in those more Victorian times. We kids were never told all of the truth, I suppose, but I'm sure it must have been somewhat more involved than a platonic relationship. Elmer was married. That much we knew but that's another story. Elmer usually took her to Wilmington and Elmer usually was waiting in Wilmington for her return. I hope Elmer found it worthwhile. I never did.
   It was the Black Diamond she invariably rode to Geneva or returned on. I feel that I have spent days, weeks, vast portions of my life waiting for Aunt Helen and the Black Diamond, the New York City-Buffalo "crack" passenger train of the line.
    I suppose in reality, the longest wait we had at the depot was 20-30 minutes. But do you know how long 30 minutes is in the life of a 10-year-old boy?
    God made Heaven and Earth in less than 30 minutes. The Ice Age was only 10 minutes. Music concerts, church sermons and lectures on Afghanistan don't last 30 minutes. Magellan sailed around the world in less than 30 minutes. Lindy flew the Atlantic in less than a half-hour. Nothing is as long as 30 minutes for a 10-year-old.
    Today, you could blindfold me and take me to the station. I could find the waiting room with its slatted curved back and seat benches, some in a circle in the middle of the room around the radiators. I could almost tell you just where the ticket office was and the baggage and freight office were; yes, the restrooms, too; and the marble floor.
    I can count the Railway Express baggage carts outside the station, those hand-pulled wagons with the iron-banded wooden wheels loaded with packages and mail bags waiting for the next train. I can tell you how long the train platform is because I walked it and ran it hundreds of times in abject boredom.
   I can tell you how fast the Black Diamond would whoosh into the station, steam hissing and brakes squealing.  I can tell you how scared a 10-year-old boy was when he stood close to the rails as that behemoth came rumbling and rattling into the station. I was a prisoner, held by my parents, moored to land, sentenced to indeterminate stretches of time that had real meaning to me then. 
   Aunt Helen came and went, she was an arrival and a departure, she was scheduled, you could look up her timetables, you could check with the passenger agent.  But I came and went at the whim of two adults who held power over me and exercised it with aplomb.
   Aunt Helen always brought  a small gift for a nephew. But the grandest gift was not hers to give. Auntie came and went on the Black Diamond. Just once, I would have liked to have arrived or departed on the Black Diamond and have them, those adults, wait 30 minutes for me.
   The parents and the aunt are gone now. So is the Black Diamond and the Lehigh Valley Railroad. Now the trestle and tracks are gone. he building, an architectural marvel in the 1890s when it was built, still stands, sad and lonely and rundown at the heels, purposeless.
     They are all gone now except the depot, even the 10-year-old boy who couldn't wait.
                                                                                                            D.C. HADLEY, Managing Editor

*The Lehigh Valley did not pass through Wilmington.