The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Grandfather's Glory Train

By Alice J. Kinder © 1987

Issue: June, 1987

Even as a little boy, Papa had been curious and interested in matters of the spirit. "Where do people go when they die?" he asked. "How many stars did God make in the sky? Does God see everybody at the same time? How can God's light shine over all the world?"

Each question he asked centered around wonder and awe concerning the world and the bright firmament above.

Both his early environment and heredity nurtured the soil for his curiosity and his profound interest in examining the identity and origin of objects. Grandma Jennings loved to study the varied leaves, flowers and plants. She taught them Bible verses and stanzas of the old ballads and gospel songs she sang while churning butter or washing dishes. Hoeing beside them in the garden or cornfield, she told them stories about their ancestors from Ireland, Scotland and Old England so they might remember their fruitful heritage.

Grandfather acquired his education from the Bible, his worn copy of Pilgrim's Progress, and other prized books. He copied favorite Bible verses and wondrous lines from Bunyan's classic in a little brown notebook. When he plowed the cornfield or rode into town, he carried the notebook. When he plowed the cornfield or rode into town, he carried the notebook for memorization. He memorized passages in books he bought from traveling peddlers. Meditating, observing, and carrying on conversations with all passersby, he shared the accumulated knowledge with his family.

Mama once said that Papa and Grandfather were as much alike as the yellow–eyed daisies in our meadow in their method of learning and grasping at the heart of things, their wonderment, and the desire to figure out the machinery of the universe. On one point, however, they differed – in the subject of their faith. The two could never discuss religion long without losing their tempers over minor differences in belief.

"I've seen that pair argue over religion for hours," observed Mama more than once, "with neither of them yielding an inch in his view."

"Both stubborn like all the Jennings clan," Grandma always replied. "Gentle as violet blooms in some things and always glad to lend a helping hand. But bowing to no one, those two are, when it comes to standing up to their opinions."

In certain ways, of course, Papa and Grandfather held practically the same ideas on their religious beliefs. Both searched daily for the timeless truths and comfort tucked within the Bible, and delighted in analyzing the character growth of the remarkable men and women whose lives were portrayed there. Alike, too, each relied on a personal God for guidance.

Nevertheless, their differences in religious belief sometimes made an uncomfortable setting for conversation – even if they managed to keep a tight rein on the hasty Jennings temper. Grandfather, a staunch adherent of the Primitive Baptist church, held certain opinions that Papa found hard to accept. His rigid belief in the doctrine of predestination was the chief point for doubting on Papa's part. And then there was the matter of Grandfather's dreams, along with the childlike faith he held in his glory train.

Grandfather set great store on his dreams and believed implicitly that they flowed directly from God. He stepped in the footsteps of his father, Great–grandfather Jennings, who had out dreamed everyone in Deep Valley during his lifetime.

Grandfather's dreams continued to increase nightly. One day he bought a dream book from a peddler; and every morning thereafter, while Grandma prepared breakfast, he looked up the meaning of his dreams in the book he treasured next to the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. After breakfast, then, Grandfather strolled in meditation to our house to tell Papa his dream stories, especially if he had experienced a memorable one the night before.

"Will, I dreamed about snakes last night," he confided one bright May morning near the lilac bush. "In my dream a green snake and a black one fought all over the cornfield. The black one finally swallowed the smaller green one. Mark my words, trouble is brewing near."

Before the day ended, fresh feuding had broken out anew between the Trelawney cousins.

On a blue–gold June morning Grandfather related that he'd dreamed yet again about traveling to heaven on his glory train and stopping by Venus. It was his favorite dream, one he indulged in frequently. And Venus was the planet that he studied nightly. Next to earth, the moon, and the sun it was the most marvelous creation, he felt, that God had created for man's speculation.

Venus, the radiant evening star, shone bright and clear above the narrow V–shaped western slope of Deep Valley where the two tall mountains locked with spreading branches. Grandfather watched for the appearance of Venus in the spring when the dogwoods and redbuds first trimmed our hillside. He noted its splendor when the trees towered fully dressed in mature green on long summer evenings. In autumn, when red and gold leaves awaited tinseled frost, the planet shone in glorious wonder. Even on winter nights, when feathery snow topped the valley's bare hills, Grandfather sat watching the glory of Venus. Wrapped in his old overcoat, he sat in the porch swing, pondering the unfathomable mystery of its remote wonder.

Grandfather knew, of course, that he would never have the opportunity of visiting Venus to explore its glory while he inhabited his earthly form. Yet dreams were free gifts from God, he believed, and gave him the chance to travel in spirit form to other worlds.

"One world at a time, though," he reflected one afternoon while summer wilted away. "Reckon that's how the Lord planned the scheme of events. Yet that doesn't mean we can't dream of other worlds or ponder on the wondrous forms of life there."

In Grandfather's recurring dream, he always stopped by Venus while he investigated the upward realm on his glory train. His visualization of the glory train was as real and concrete to him as his wagon or Sunday buggy, the two conveyances he possessed on earth. It was three feet wide and five miles long. Numerous coaches, all glittering gold, made up the length. The angel Gabriel was the conductor and pointed out to passengers the marvelous sights along the pathway to heaven.

The fact that Grandfather couldn't remember the passengers' faces sometimes troubled him.

"I can't remember who sat beside me last night," he told Papa one morning. "They were real people, though, Will. I'm sure of that. I talked to them, but I can't remember their faces this morning. Now about the planned calendar of our lives–––"

Turning aside to hide his impatience over such fantasy, Papa attempted to change the subject. For the life of him, he couldn't see how Grandfather could believe that an appointed time was planned ahead for all earthly events. In his opinion, such belief left out man's free will and unfolding character growth.

Most of all, though, he couldn't understand how a man with Grandfather's intelligence, his wide range of reading, and his probing into all knowledge that he could lay his hands on could assert that he dreamed dreams such as the one of the glory train. The concrete details of the train and the fact the Grandfather affirmed that he saw real, live people riding with him on the way to heaven irritated Papa sometimes to the limit.

No, Papa couldn't accept such unbelievable aspects of spiritual matters. He found it impossible to swallow such farfetched stories as a reality. Grandfather's imagination was surely running wild as he dwelt on heavenly conveyances and appointed times for events.

One cold December morning Grandfather, wading a five–inch snow, couldn't wait for warmer temperatures to visit Papa. "Will," he almost shouted, stamping chunks of snow from his big brogan shoes, "I dreamed about the glory train last night!"

"Well, that's news," Papa retorted, copying Mama's tart manner for once. "But don't stand freezing on the porch! Hurry into the fire."

"The train was five miles long and glittering–––"

"Yes, I know the exact dimensions by this time," interrupted Papa. "Every flowery sentence of them." Observing his father's crestfallen look, he repented his hasty speech. "I'm sorry, Pa. Continue your story please."

"Well, the train was the same as ever, except that this time I remember who sat beside me!" Grandfather's victorious tones rang triumphantly across the kitchen. "A little boy, Will, who looked the way you looked as a two–year–old. I can see him yet."

Grandfather shut his eyes tightly. When he opened them he saw Papa staring at his left shoe. Mama, holding Baby Willie, held him yet closer. As Mama held him, she recalled little Jettie–Elizabeth, their baby daughter who'd died three years before. Unknown to Grandfather, Willie had been sick in the night.

Before she and Papa had time to tell Grandfather about their baby's illness, he turned to Papa in concern. "Be careful today, Will. It's slippery outside. You could break an arm, you know."

Despite Grandfather's apprehension, Papa didn't break an arm or a leg. Four days later, though, Grampy Greenleaf died of a stomach convulsion. A week after his death Willie died of spinal meningitis.

Following these tragic events, Papa never again spoke cynically about Grandfather's glory train or his dreams. Nor did he discuss vehemently again the varied angles of predestination with his father. Experience had taught him that no person discovers the total knowledge hidden deep in the universe. God's knowledge alone is superior, he decided. Grandfather, he knew, had a right to meditate on his beliefs, his dreams, and the marvelous wonder of his glory train.

Seeking truth and light of his own as the years passed, Papa continued to dwell on the verities of Christianity and the application of its principles to life's problems. He began to observe and believe that if men trust Him, God works out daily life and schedules in unfolding patterns. Each day he examined his own life, trying to act on Christ's principles in a concrete manner. When Grandfather became ill, Papa made repeated trips to town for his medicine and watched over him daily.

On a snowy December night just before Christmas, Grandfather knew his sojourn on earth was nearing an end. He called the family, one by one, to his bedside. He spoke to Papa last of all, just after making his final farewell to Grandma.

"The glory train, Will," he murmured faintly. "I truly saw it, Son – in my dreams. The passengers were real. I can't see why – their faces – faded with daylight."

Papa bent low to catch his last words. "The glory–train – Will –"

The happy moment had arrived for Grandfather to enter heaven at last as a reality.

After Grandfather's death, Papa meditated long moments without speaking to anyone. And yet at times he laughed and played with Clayton and John, Jim and Jerry, and me. Sometimes, too, he sang the old gospel songs happily with Mama.

"Both life and death are deep mysteries, Betsy," he reflected one day. "Life is a gift to be used well each day."

"Why, of course," answered Mama quite matter–of–factly "Only the other day I was telling Lorena––"

"Lorena Bender!" exclaimed Papa. "I dreamed about her and Dan last night."

"You don't say! Don't tell me you're beginning to believe in dreams and––" But even Mama couldn't bring herself to speak of Grandfather's glory train so soon after his death.

Not for several months did Papa speak of Grandfather's favorite dream. Right away, though, he started searching for the meaning of his dreams in Grandfather's dream book. He read his Bible and studied religious books. He began to experience certain feelings that he called intuitions. And he watched the planet Venus shining afar in the heavens.

On summer evenings after a long day of corn hoeing Mama and Papa, my four brothers, and I sat on the porch swing or in the rocking chairs to observe the bright planet. We delighted in seeing its first shining glow in the western sky. The boys and I often wondered if Grandfather might be exploring its beauty while riding the heavens on his glory train.

Editor's Note... This story is in Alice Kinder's latest book, "Papa's Walking Shoes", the fourth and last book in the "Mama" and "Papa" series of the Jennings family in the East Kentucky hills in the 1930's. The book ($3.95 each or two or more for only $3.50 each includes postage) is available from Mrs. Alice J. Kinder, 456 Upper Chloe Road, Pikeville, KY 41501.