Biographical Non-Fiction posted April 11, 2008

This work has reached the exceptional level
A daughter's remembrance

Better Than Any Train Ride

by Mrs. KT

Contest Winner 

Written in memory of my father, Daniel M. Kenel (1918 - 2001)
He always said that someday we would take a train ride together. Just the two of us. Get up early at the "crack of dawn." Pack a cold lunch: ground bologna sandwiches, apple pie, and lemonade. Drive to the old Potter Street Station in downtown Saginaw. Buy two round trip tickets. Hop onto the shiniest caboose in the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway yard and ride it all the way to "wherever it ends and back again."

That "someday" never came.

But there were plenty of other "somedays."

A lifetime of "somedays." And we did them all:

Together we fished for bullheads and sunfishes on Sanford Lake and the Shiawassee Flats.  We built and painted a five foot tall, one hundred twenty foot long post and rail fence that is still standing and serviceable today, nearly fifty years later. And the two of us searched every December of my childhood until we found the "perfect" Christmas tree - the one that still housed a robin's nest and whose crooked branches had obviously offered protection to God's small creatures when northern Michigan's winter winds had shown no mercy.

He taught me how to read before I was five and play a mean game of euchre coupled with a little "table talk" by the time I was seven: "Spades. And I'm goin' alone this time ... just for my partner." By eight I had won more peeries, boulders, and cats' eyes than any other kid on Swarthout Drive, and by ten I could throw a curve ball as "good as any boy."

But we never took that train ride.

We talked about it many lazy Saturday afternoons while sitting or swinging in his hammock in the shade of our spacious back porch. He'd be nursing one or two cold "brewskies" - most likely Stroh's - and I'd be trying to make my orange Nehi last all afternoon. Once in awhile, he'd give me a sip of his frothy beverage in spite of the fact that we both knew we'd catch heck if Mother ever found out.

Big plans we had: No mother. No sisters. No schedules. No chores. And if we wanted to, why we'd hop off the Tuscola and find other rails to ride. Why, we might be gone all summer!

"You mean like hobos? Like in Rasmus and the Vagabond?"

"Yup, just like those two hobos."

Sitting by a laughing fire on cold winter evenings after the supper dishes had been washed and put away, he would graciously introduce me to his most treasured friends. They became my lifelong friends as well: Prince Valiant, L'il Abner, Washington Irving, Robert Frost, Baba Yaga, King Arthur, Paul Bunyan and Babe.

We could embarrass ourselves silly at the recitation of finely tuned ditties as we took our evening walks around the neighborhood or through Cammin's cemetery up on Sullivan's Hill:



"If you're not right, try Carter's Little Liver Pills."

"They do the work of calomel, without the dangers of calomel.
Just a harmless little liver pill. . ."



"If you're not right. . ."

On and on until the words were swallowed up by our laughter.

But we also could recite more refined verses as well. "Abou Ben Adhem," "The Wreck of the Hesperus," and "Paul Revere's Ride" were three of our favorites. "Remember that the words need to be heard, not just read. That's their richness and their beauty."

I learned more about American history and literature from this humble and gentle man than I ever did from well-intentioned Dominican nuns or Franciscan priests as we traveled in books or by car to places like Gettysburg, Tarrytown, Monticello, and Salem. Every vacation we took as a family had to have a historical purpose, or we didn't go: "You need to know the lay of the land and where your forefathers lived and fought to understand this country's history and her people."

But as the years went by, the promised train ride became nothing more than a notion that I would mention only in passing and one that he easily dismissed: 

"Whatever happened to that train ride we were going to take?"

"Oh, someday, Diner, someday."

And both of us would smile at the memory of those plans we had made when neither one of us thought we would ever grow too old, have too many responsibilities, or forget what it was like to have impractical dreams.

Eventually, I stopped mentioning it altogether.

Just as I was beginning my adult life, his was slowly coming to an end. Diagnosed with a muscular neuropathy in his legs when he was forty-five, his condition began to rapidly deteriorate when he reached his late sixties. Yet, whenever we were able to visit one another, we walked, albeit slowly, conversing about everyday occurrences or new books we each had read. And he always made sure that my mother put two glasses by his plate at dinner, so I could enjoy a sip of his Stroh's.

His health became even further compromised when, in his early seventies, he developed congestive heart failure and suffered two crippling heart attacks.

Still, I was grateful that I only lived three hours away, and I was able to drive "down" from my home in Traverse City to Saginaw to visit with him on the weekends, once or twice monthly.

On our last afternoon together, I found him sitting in his wheelchair by the window of his hospital room when I entered. He recognized me immediately; I had feared he would not. In my arms I carried the newly released Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and a copy of "Abou Ben Adhem." In my purse, I harbored a somewhat chilled can of Stroh's.

For an hour or more we delighted in one another's company with our chatting about everything and nothing, my reading bits and pieces of Harry Potter, and both of us doing our best to conceal the small aluminum can and its contents from a parade of hovering health care providers. In that regard, we failed miserably, but all who entered the room that afternoon merely smiled and went about their business. They all knew, as he and I did, that every moment left to us was a gift.

As our visit that afternoon came to its end, I slowly gathered my belongings and bent over to kiss him gently on his forehead. I was about to turn and walk away, when he reached for my left hand and held it tightly in both of his. He raised his head and looked intently at me, his brown eyes bright and his smile radiant.

"Better than any train ride, Diner. Better than any train ride." 


He was my first teacher, my best friend, and my safest harbor. Because of him I still play euchre with a vengeance, sometimes making it "spades" just for the hell of it whether I have trump or not. The first weekend after every Thanksgiving, I still go searching for that "perfect" Christmas tree and treasure each one that hosts a small bird's nest. Books and writing are my lifelong passion, and to this day, just a sip of beer is enough for me. But it's when I hear the far off whistle of a train that an emptiness takes hold of me, and I long to be sitting in a hammock on a sunny Saturday afternoon, side by side by the man I was blessed and honored all of my life to call my father. . .

Contest Winner


My father passed away on August 17, 2001. I was with him when he died. He had lived eighty-two years, and died the day after my mother and he would have celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary. At his funeral, I had the honor of delivering his eulogy. I recited "Abou Ben Adhem," but not from memory; I simply couldn't. I miss him everyday. . .

Rasmus and the Vagabond: Astrid Lindgren: 1956

"Abou Ben Adhem:" James Leigh Hunt

Carter's Little Liver Pills - ditty sung in celebration of the medicinal product developed in the 1870s by Dr. Samuel J. Carter

Sunfishes is the correct spelling. (I thought the plural form was "sunfish" until I did the research)

"Diner" - my father's nickname for me; I never knew why. . . diane kenel-truelove April 11, 2008
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by Paul Featherstone at

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