On Right Side of the Tracks
By Jasmine Willis
WELLSVILLE — You know how one photo can invoke about 1,000 memories? It is true that one photo is worth 1,000 words.
I spent the first half of the 90s on the right side of the train tracks on 131 Miller Street. Wellsville was and will remain my hometown. It is a place I recall fondly as I talk about my childhood shenanigans. We all have these stories to tell.
I recall mine being born on the train tracks that were just a stone’s throw away from my home on Miller Street. Like many, I was one of those children who never really took in the dangers around me. I just spent all summer challenging the limits and inventing new ways to nearly give my poor mother heart failure.
I spent a good portion of my childhood on the train tracks. My friends and I would walk them to songs we enjoyed. We would eat a famous Texas Hot cheeseburger along the journey. My little brother and I would walk them every day to school. Even in the winter we would find use for those rusted out tracks by using them for our homemade cardboard box sleds.
There was a lot of love and a child’s joy that went into those lonely forgotten tracks. I like to think that If train tracks could share stories, we would’ve been a fond memory too.
Echoes of my childhood are still found in Wellsville as I make my way down once or twice a year. It is an important part of my personal quest to take hundreds of photos of what was once my childhood in case it disappears. Sadly, a lot of it already has on the last few rundowns.
I think that is the whole point of growing up. We leave parts of ourselves behind in the places we wandered.
We are just part of the story now. Our childhood has joined the many other childhoods who came before us. We are all part of the legend and legacy of a hometown.
I think my love for trains started on my hometown street in Wellsville. I think from there it grew into something more. I would find that I needed that train to follow me throughout my life. It would be a gentle hum in the distance to give me peace.
Every place I have lived since moving from our home at 131 Miller Street has been greeted by what I call night trains. The night train comes to me when I need it the most. It reminds me that I am not alone in the world. It puts me at peace like an old friend. Maybe it reminds me of that little girl who spent most of her time on the tracks of Wellsville.
Still in all this excitement about trains and train tracks there was something missing. I had never been on one before. We went on the Attica and Arcade Railroad with the family to enjoy some historic magic. A couple years after that I went on a Fall Festival train ride with the Rochester and Genesee Valley Railroad. My co-worker and friend Judy Smith-Cronk came with me on that adventure. It is also a common adventure for me to take a large number of photos of every abandoned train depot I see in all the small towns. I have many photos involving trains in some way throughout my life adventures.
One adventure had brought us back to the Wellsville Depot. My grandmother recalled her moments at the depot when it was a big deal. I recalled it being a cool place to wander around as a child. It is a very beautiful piece of our hometown legacy that we were happy to see still standing. We took a ton of photos since it encompasses several generations of memories. You see we are a Wellsville Family. My great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and many others in the Church/Willis line come from this beautiful town.
We love this town. Even though we are left with a lot of echoes. Even though a lot of those places are gone. Even though a lot of those buildings are torn down. They cannot take away the memories. The precious beautiful memories that make us keep coming back every year.
This place gave me a Mark Twain childhood living on the train tracks all summer. It gave me good friends. It gave me plenty of adventures. It gave me 50 cent ice cream cones at Byrne Dairy. It gave me a child’s love for trains that would carry me into adulthood. Most of all it gave me a hometown.