By Nancy Colasurdo
(This column was originally published on NJ.com on 9/19/22.)
“Nan, how about a cup of java?” I can still hear my late father saying the words.
So while visiting my mother recently and making myself an afternoon cup of coffee, I selected from the cabinet Dad’s white mug with the blue Conrail train emblazoned on it. In his retirement, we had developed a habit of enjoying that time when I visited, and it soothed me to sip from his mug.
Dad spent 19 years working for the railroad and took immense pride in it. I mean, the mere mention of trains lit him up.
He died last year at age 90. I respect him too much to try to characterize his experience working in our nation’s railroad system and I won’t speak for him without being able to ask his views on what’s happening with the current rail negotiations.
But I will share my lived experience as the daughter of a railroad man.
Dad’s time working as a brakeman on trains started in the 1970s and ended in the ’90s. It spanned my teens to my 30s. I remember the job bringing a level of financial stability to our family because my hardworking blue-collar father had landed at a place with roots and tradition.
The memories that stand out to me involve what it was like in our home when he was on call. The phone might ring in the wee hours, temperatures below freezing, and he’d get out of his warm bed, get dressed and off he’d go up the New Jersey Turnpike (we lived in Hamilton, N.J.). As I recall, he had a two-hour window to get there from the time of the call.
Sometimes, I was aware it was hard on him, but honestly, at the time I was absorbed in my own high school/college/career life and not super conscious of the toll it took. What registered at the time — an era before smartphones — was that my friends couldn’t call if Dad was on call. If they did, I had to get on our one and only landline and hurriedly hustle them off while my mother gritted her teeth. While I understood my father’s job had to take priority, it was frustrating for a young adult craving to be included.
I was also aware back then that sometimes relatives wanted to know if we were coming to a…