posted on July 20, 2021 by Lisa Wells

The Train Track Chronicles

By Lisa Wells

At the core of Aggie the Horrible versus Max the Pompous Ass is an across-the-tracks love story. Aggie, the heroine, was raised in poverty. Max, the hero, comes from excessive wealth.

Their polar-opposite upbringings cause them to look at the world differently. Those differences lead to a ton of growth for both characters. Some of it laugh-out-loud funny. Some of it poignant. As I’m writing this post, I’m headed to Chicago. My mode of transportation is an Amtrak train.

As I watch the homes and trees and other railroad tracks fly by, I can’t help but speculate upon who lives in those homes. Are they living on the right side of the proverbial track or the wrong side? If it’s the wrong side, how would they describe their life?

In Aggie’s case, she would say her early childhood was scary sketchy. She had a mom who didn’t know how to care for a small child. Then when Aggie was four, she went to live with her grandmother. Still on the wrong side of the tracks, still poor, but Aggie’s view of life changed. Her grandmother introduced love and security into her life. As a result, Aggie was free to blossom and, best of all, she was taught she was worthy.

This story made me really think about my own upbringing. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. In fact, north of our house was an actual hub of railroad tracks. At least eight train tracks were only one abandoned lot to the north of our house. From the multitude of trains that came through daily, the conductors or somebody used to throw out those big fat square batteries and clear, Christmas-tree-like lightbulbs along those very tracks. My siblings and I loved to explore the tracks and rummage for those treasures. When we’d find them, we’d bring them home and connect the batteries and bulbs with copper wire (I think it was copper) and watch the bulbs light up. So cool.

Behind our backyard was an alley. Across the alley, on a parcel of land, was a multitude of stacks of old tires. The whole neighborhood used to play hide and seek in those tires. To the west of us our home were the stockyards. I have vivid memories of running barefoot through the stockyards, and especially of running along the metal stairs and corridors that went over top the animals that were in pens. One of my clearest memories of the stockyards was of my sisters and I, on one super-hot day, stopping at the café and ordering glasses of water. Then the waitress surprised us with a bill. We had no money and ran. For a very long time, I had nightmares the police arrested me for stealing water. Ugh.

On the gravel road in front of our house, we used to have barefoot races.

My fondest memories of my childhood are of a neighbor who lived on our street. She is who Meemaw, a character in Aggie the Horrible versus Max the Pompous Ass, was fashioned after. My neighbor’s name was Hazel, and she loved to play solitaire, watch soap operas, smoke, and interact with the neighborhood children. We were always welcome at her house. She taught us all how to play cards and got us hooked on her soap operas. We’d take turns, two at a time, spending the night at her house. She loved to refer to us as fart blossoms.

Most of the time Granny Hazel didn’t wear her teeth. But sometimes, she’d put her makeup on, and her teeth in, and catch the bus to go somewhere. Funny enough, I always liked her much better without her teeth and makeup.

I know now, Granny Hazel lived in a house that barely had any type of walls or insulation, but it was clean. It was always clean. In many of my books, you’ll hear mention of someone named Hazel. She was that special to me.

Across from her house was another elderly neighbor. Her name was Ruby. She lived in a three-room house. Rumor had it she was a witch. Every now and then, Ruby would see one of us kids outside playing and ask us to come inside to do her a favor. And she would always say there’s a nickel or a quarter under the doily on the dresser for helping her. On the few occasions that it was me who was asked to help her, I would hold my breath, run inside to do what needed done and then run outside. For some reason, I thought holding my breath would protect me from a witch.

On paper, it would appear I lived a poor childhood. But we never did without. We always had food. Sure, there were times we took mayonnaise and cheese sandwiches to school for our lunches, but I never thought anything of it. Both of my parents worked, showered us with love, and once a week stuck us on a church bus to go to church while they stayed home and had some much-needed time-off from parenting.

As the years went by, my dad (who dropped out of high school) bought the tire shop where he worked, mom quit her factory job, and we all moved to a small town. Mom and Dad’s brood of five all graduated from high school. Four went on to earn bachelor’s degrees, and two added-on master’s degrees.

Growing up poor taught me being poor doesn’t mean you’re less-than as a result. It taught me your value as a person has nothing to do with your bank account.

I’m a wrong-side-of-the-track girl and proud of it.

Tell me one thing about you that you’re proud of, and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a $15 Amazon gift card.

Lisa Wells

Lisa Wells

Lisa Wells writes romantic comedy with enough steam to fog your eyeglasses, your brain, and sometimes your Kindle screen. On the other hands, her eighty-year-old mother-in-law has read Lisa’s steamiest book and lived to offer her commentary. Which went something like this: You used words I’ve never heard of… She lives in Missouri with her husband and slightly-chunky rescue dog. Lisa loves dark chocolate, red wine, and those rare mornings when her skinny jeans fit. Which isn’t often, considering the first two entries on her love-it list.

17 thoughts on “The Train Track Chronicles”

  1. Colleen C. says:

    Being the first in my family to get a degree.

    1. Lisa Wells says:

      That is so awesome. Congratulations.

  2. Rachel Flesher (aka Raonaid Luckwell) says:

    Hubby and I are kind of like that. I grew up on the poor side. My father was a drunk – who hardly worked. My mom worked all the time. She worked at Woolsworth until they closed (when I was a senior) and waitressed at mom and pop shops. Most of our food staples is what my uncle and grandfather hunted (I grew up on deer meat). Hubby was the complete opposite. He grew up in Hammond, Illinois near Chicago. He had name brand items and stuff. I know in the beginning of our sons’ lives we struggled… but I am proud to say that we finally own our own house. We never thought we’d be able to. I’m proud that my middle son decided to be a Marine. I am proud that two of my three boys have graduated (the third one is a sophmore so I have some time)

    1. Lisa Wells says:

      Rachel congrats on being a home owner and mom to three successful children.

    2. Cissy says:

      Rachel, congratulations on being today’s blog winner! Lisa will be in contact to send your gift card!

      1. Rachel Flesher (aka Raonaid Luckwell) says:

        Thank you!!!!

  3. JanD says:

    I’m proud that I lost weight.

  4. bn100 says:

    can bake

    1. Lisa Wells says:

      Hi Bn100,

      I’m not much of a baker, but I do love to eat baked goods. 🙂 Thanks for sharing what you’re proud of.

  5. Lisa Wells says:

    Losing weight takes will power. Congrats on making it happen.

  6. GB says:

    I was a child of immigrants. We kids grew up with enough of what we needed and not many luxuries. We translated for the adults and grew up feeling confident in dealing with the adult world. Looking back, I recognize that we lived in poverty, but we didn’t actually feel poor. I am proud that all of us kids grew up to be able to make a bit more than we need, and that we could use our previous experiences to help us through lean times. That said, we are also fortunate for friends and family who provide advice and support through all occasions and especially through said lean times.

    1. Lisa Wells says:

      Hi GB,
      Thank you for sharing what you are proud of. Friends and family can make such a difference in a child’s perspective when growing up. And I agree, lean times make us stronger. I bet your parents are very proud of how their children turned out.

  7. Kim says:

    I’m proud of being the mom that I am. I have a close relationship with my kids, that I didn’t have with my mom.

  8. Lisa Wells says:

    Hi Kim,
    Being a mom is a hard job. Congrats on rocking it. Hugs for not having a good relationship with your mom.

  9. Vicki says:

    This really resonates with me! I was definitely poor growing up, (and not doing much better now, really), but we didn’t do without necessities and my mom worked super hard after my dad left us to get a nursing degree and graduated at 40! We couldn’t afford college but I started working full time during high school (a work-based program allowance to allow a kid that young to work 40 hours), and have been working for the same company for 18 years now, something I am very proud of. I used to feel less than about not going to college or having the degrees my fellow friends and classmates ended up getting, but I gained valuable experience and didn’t have to deal with student loans.

    1. Lisa Wells says:

      Hi Vicki,

      I’m a strong believer that college degrees are not a requirement for success. I have one child with a degree, one without. They are both doing fabulous. When I was a high school counselor, I made it a point to emphasize there’s more than one way to achieve success in life – that a degree was not the only path.

      Thank you for sharing your story. You and your mom rock!

  10. Cissy says:

    Hi everyone.Thanks for all the comments; you all have so much to be proud of. The gift card winner has been picked by random number generator and will be announced shortly 🙂

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