This is a repeat holiday article, on a four-year cycle. (If I remember in four years.)
I’m an old coot now but I still believe in Santa Claus. In spite of how he tricked me when I was eight years old. I snuck down the stairs on that snowy Christmas morning. The room was dimly lit. Just the flicker from a set of bubble lights on the tree. I perched on a step near the bottom, studying the scene through the newel posts. A dollhouse loomed behind a stack of presents. I knew it was for my sister. But where was my “big” present? I didn’t see anything. Then, I spotted a gleam of light, a reflection from a metal track. Could it be? Was it the train set I wanted so badly? My heart skipped a beat! I hopped over the railing and raced to the tree. There it was! An electric train! A black engine, four metal cars and a red caboose. There really was a Santa Claus! What I didn’t know, was that it would be nearly four decades before Santa delivered MY train. This one was for my father.
Oh sure, I was allowed to place it on the track, switch on the transformer and crank up the dial to send it speeding down the rail. I was even allowed to take the extra track out of the box and change the oval layout to a figure eight and to set up a “Plasticville” village for the freighter to run through. But, it wasn’t my train, not really. It was my father’s. He was the one who carved out a space under the basement stairs two days after Christmas in order to slip in a four by eight sheet of plywood to accommodate a complicated layout. He put lights in the houses, added electric switches, and created an alpine village on a mountain, the same mountain that the train disappeared into after leaving Plasticville. The rest of the fathers in my neighborhood did the same thing. Only Billy Wilson escaped the great train robbery. His trains made it to the attic before his father got his hands on them. Several train sets and a sea of accessories were scattered over the floor. It’s where we went to be railroad men. Nobody was there to stop the fun, to prevent a speeding freighter from crashing into the back of a passenger car or to make us take a cow off the track before it was sent flying into the school house. Billy’s attic was our toy train sanctuary.
I finally got my very own train set when I was well into my forties. My wife was sick of my drooling, every time we passed by the set of “big” trains in the window at Miniature Kingdom on Front Street, Owego. The store is gone now, but once was the place to go for all things miniature: dollhouses, furniture, figurines and LGB trains. My wife bought a set and put it under the tree. I was eight years old again as I tore the wrapper from the box. I was still there, lying on the living room floor, sleeping like an eight-year-old when the clock struck midnight. The clickety clack of the wheels on the track had lulled me into slumber. It was a sad, drab day in January when the tree came down and the trains went back in the box, forced into hibernation until the next Christmas. Things come slow to old coots, but it eventually dawned on me; I didn’t have to be deprived of my train for eleven months. I could build a high shelf around the room and put the track and train on it. So I did! Now, I “play” with my trains throughout the year. It’s the best cure in the world for insomnia. Two laps around the loop and I start dozing. When I dream, I’m eight years old and coming down the stairs on that long ago Christmas morning.
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