Today is the 114th anniversary of the birth of John Murdock Henderson (Jack), my father. I think of him often. Here’s to you Dad.

That old photograph has lain dormant for longer than I have been around, coming to light occasionally as those images are sifted through, mining memories, looking for continuity, keys to my own rooms. The one I’m talking about – father sitting on a keg, saxophone in hand, somewhere near Salina, closely surrounded by three young women.

He told me many things about a telegrapher’s life on the Union Pacific Line. He told of blowing snow, of lonely nights and stoking the potbelly fire.

He told of trains by number, engineers by name. He knew speed, destination, cargo and could recall in absolute detail how it was to stand in that whistling vortex holding the message hook high as the transcontinental freight sped through a Kansas night with Pacifica on its mind.

Not a word, however, of the women in that photograph. Who they were. What they were like. I wanted to know about those women, a saxophone and cold Kansas nights.

He said, just girls from town. Didn’t know them well. He never said just another nameless freight carrying the usual cargo to I don’t know where.

Father never told me much about women at all. Spent his life – the one I knew – in penitential abstinence and doctrine hoping, I suppose, to forget those nights, or wondering, I suppose, how it might have been. I don’t suppose I’ll ever know. The secrets of Salina lay with him, I hope, warmly in the ground, far from midnight trains, saxophones, town girls and ragtime photographs.

I think about it though. I still wait for news of those town girls, the cargo they carried, how fast they sped through a Kansas night with Pacifica on their minds.

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