November 5, 1963
Thank you so much for passing me your full address at the prison today. I’m not sure if it is appropriate for you and me to correspond, but I suppose as your college-student-volunteer English teacher, we might contend that our exchanges are part of the literacy program—a class assignment.
Today you shared a life story about your younger years “riding the rails”. A favorite stopover was a hidden wooded spot in the suburbs where you and fellow travelers would jump off the cars for respite. You’d make a fire, tell tall tales, sing songs, and settle in for the evening. You said that sometimes a shy young kid might show up with sandwiches. You two became friends, sort of. His name was Lance.
Lance was my 10 year-old kid brother. After school, with his sack of sandwiches, he would quietly leave our house that backed-up to the woods and follow his path to the tracks. He’d wait for the scheduled trains while sitting on the rise above your fire circle. He never knew when or if you’d arrive but he was fascinated by you and your adventures.
Lance told me all this two years later when we moved to a new house in a neighboring community; it was too far away to continue his secret ritual. He said he’d miss his friend Jerome.
I don’t know what circumstances brought you to this correctional facility—and I don’t care. You enriched my brother’s young life and I’m grateful. I plan to share our exchanges with Lance if you give me permission. He is in the 10th grade now and might wish to write to you himself!
Your assignment for next class: write a one-page story about a favorite rail ride. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. Either mail it to me at my college address or bring it to class. I’ll bring sandwiches.