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Growing up, my mother would tell me stories of my grampa Watson. I never met him, since he died in 1954 and I was born in ’57. However, mom was able to paint a picture of him for me through these stories. So, growing up, I felt that I actually knew him.

She told me of how he met my grandmother, how they lived by Flanagan’s Pond in Ayer, of how he loved to garden and the hen house he kept. How he managed to help his family survive fairly well during the Depression. She told me of how on many Sunday mornings he would pile his four children on his lap and read the comics to them. Each character has its own voice. My grampa was Chester L. Watson, a railroad engineer.

Never thinking twice about it, I either lived beside or near railroad tracks. I grew up on the corner of Old Ayer Road and Peabody Street in Groton. Every day after school, I would race my bike up to the railroad bridge and wave to the train engineer. He would always have a big smile for me as he waved back.

In 1971, mom and dad sold the big house and we moved a few miles away to Smith Street, beside the same set of tracks. From my first apartment I could hear trains in the distance. I lived for 17 years in Ayer, whose beginnings sprung from the Boston & Maine Railroad.

Then we bought our first home in Gardner. It is a cute little ranch on Pond Street. In the winter, when the leaves are off the trees, we see beautiful sunsets reflecting off the ice of Parker Pond. And, as you may have guessed, a set of tracks runs beside the pond. How comforting it is to hear the heavy trains rumbling through the woods at night!

Then one night watching Chronicle, the program described the railroads of New England. And a set of tracks that ran through Gardner past Parker Pond up to Bellows Falls, Vt.! That’s precisely the same route grampa took to switch his cars with the Canadian Red Wing Express then make his return trip to Massachusetts! I finally realized that grampa Watson was keeping nearby all those years.

Then after visiting my mother, now 87 and still living in Groton, I finally had the time to swing by St. Mary’s Cemetery in Ayer. I had been meaning to do this for months, but life often gets in the way of things you want to do. So I swung by the cemetery on my way home, to see if I could find my father’s parents and my Aunt Marian to say hello remembering that Grampa Watson was also buried there, I decided to go look for his grave.

It didn’t take long to find him, figuring that he died in ’54 so he must be just down the hill. And so he was! A large gray stone with the name Watson carved in black lettering and Chester L. beneath with my Uncle John’s name beside it. I stood alone on the top of the hill; it was quiet and peaceful there. The maples were just starting to turn.

And as I tapped the stone to say “hi,” a lone train whistle blew from the center of Ayer. One long and two short toots. Chills went up my spine!

It was grampa saying ‘Hello!’

MARY FRIEDRICH