Welcome to the Spot Writers’ weekly flash fiction post. This month’s prompt is “trolley car,” and today’s post comes from Tom Robson. Check out his book, Written While I Still Remember, available on Amazon and Smashwords
No Trolleys, Just Tramcars
by Tom Robson
I spent my early years in the English industrial city where I was born. Once I was too large for the pram and after I responded to encouragements to walk rather than be pushed up Leeds hills in the pushchair, the tram became one means of getting around the city. The others of my first nine years were walking or riding my trike, firmly connected to my mother’s grip with an old trouser belt of my absent father. The family car was a war and many years away.
The city trams, like the later trolleys, were powered from overhead lines connected high above the main streets. Unlike trolleys, tram car routes were defined by steel tracks set in parallel rows on the main streets they shared with the sparse traffic of the thirties and early forties. The trams might well have been the smoothest vehicles in the city. The tramlines were often set in cobblestone streets
I have four childhood memories of trams. The first and worst was the return trip from the free dental clinic where I had a number of ‘first’ teeth extracted with the help of chloroform. On the return trip the side effect of chloroform and the trauma of tooth pulling, for which I was inadequately forewarned, caused me to project blood-flecked vomit on the tramseat, floor and crowded passengers.
We got off the tram two stops early and my mother carried her evil-smelling seven year old, up the steep Harehills Lane to grandma’s.
Prior to this, accompanied again by my mother, I took tram rides to St Jame’s Infirmary where I was subjected to exercise intended to stretch my neck. I was recovering from surgery to forestall torticollis, which if untreated led to the abominably descriptive condition of ‘Wryneck’. I hated the physiotherapy. Getting on the tram to the hospital turned me in to a whiner, impossible to placate for the trip there and the therapy. At home, my mother had to lift me by the head to repeat the unnatural exercises every day for over a year. And you think ‘tough love’ is a recent phenomenon?
By the time I was eight I was allowed to go with my friends,on Sundays, to Roundhay Park. It was at least a mile walk away, across the Soldier’s Field, to the back entrance at the top of Hill Sixty. At the park we could climb trees (if the wardens weren’t around), roll down the hill and paddle in either of two lakes, one of which fed water to the outdoor swimming baths to which we were occasionally treated. It was a full day of childhood freedom, enjoyment and exploration.
Occasionally, grandma would give me the penny fare to take the tram to the park. My friend Tim, one of seven kids in the family across the back ginnel, also got tram fare from my gran. Grown ups thought we would walk there and, in an exhausted state, take the tram home. Eight and ten year old boys did not get tired, given the opportunity of let’s-pretend games and freedom in a seven hundred acre park for a day. We wanted to get there so we took the quick way – by tram.
One bright and promising Sunday, as soon as I completed my choirboy duties at St. Wilfred’ and Tim had attended mass, we pocketed grandma’s penny and ran down the hill to Roundhay Road to take the tram to the park.
The park tram-stop was about 100 yards past the main gate.This was 1944 and there were very few cars on the roads in that era. It was safe to jump off the rapidely decelerating tramcar opposite the park gates. Tim had been taught the safe way to do this by his older brothers. He faced the way the tram was going and stepped off, running. I followed his advice to look behind and make sure no cars were there. None were there, so I stepped off in the logical-to-me-way, facing back to the gates we were headed for.
The bloody scraped knees and elbows added to the forlorn figure sat crying in the middle of the wide street. Damage was superficial and was quickly evaluated by the park gate warden and tram conductor, who admonished me with “ Tha daft bugger! Divn tha know that tha faces t’way ‘trams going if tha wants to jump off?” Once sat on the kerb, some lady gave me a cone from Granelli’s ice cream truck. I shared it with Tim.
Tim and the warden took me to the first aid station in the park. Ten year old Tim was given the responsibility of getting me home. We walked. Nobody asked if we had tram fare. That final steep climb up Harehills Lane, aggravated every bruise and scrape I’d got in my tumble from the tram. I told mum and gran I’d fallen off a swing in the park. Tim backed up the lie.
My father had lost his job shortly after his successful apprenticeship finished and just as the great depression climaxed. He worked where he could and eventually got a steady job as a Leeds City Tramcar driver, not too long after I was born.
If we were lucky, mum and I might catch his tram on the way into the city centre or to one of innumerable hospital appointments. It was all a matter of chance.
I must have been almost three when I had to have surgery and spend the accustomed week of recovery in hospital. I couldn’t understand what was happening. Why did my mother spend so little time with me? I had no understanding of the severe restrictions on visiting hours . They were both short and infrequent. I was in my cot surrounded by about twenty other beds in a men’s surgical ward. The hurses had to remain formal, though I wondered how they could resist my crying and histrionics as my mother and, sometimes, my father left after afternoon and evening visits.
My mother carried me to the tram stop when I was sent home.We didn’t take the first tram that came. The conductor told us, “Vera! Fred’s on the one reet behind. He’ll want to see t’ bairn.”
As the next tram slid to a stop, the driver, My father pulled repeatedly on the cord that rang the alert bell. Clang! Clang! Clang! His conductor explained to the other passengers, as his driver got off to hug his son and wife. My mother was given the seat closest to the driver while I sat up, proud and once again interested in life after recovery.
Soon after my father changed uniform from Leeds City Transport employee to soldier as the war loomed. I was almost as proud of this new uniform.
But my feelings never exceeded those on that day when my father, the tram driver, took me home from the dreaded hospital.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
RC Bonitz: http://www.rcbonitz.com
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Tom Robson: https://robsonswritings.wordpress.com
Lorelei Cecelia Franklin broke a twenty-year streak of bad luck when she won the L. Cameron Faulkner fiction contest. Apprenticed to the reclusive and famous author, Lorei will spend three weeks with the master of horror himself in the secluded mountains of Virginia. On her way to Faulkner’s mansion, Lorei meets a leathery man who snares souls that desire too much, and everything in the mansion screams warnings against him. But with her lust for Faulkner, her appetite for fame, and her wish to protect her ailing mother, Lorei’s chances for escape are slim.