When I was a boy the holidays didn’t end the day after New Year’s as they do now. At our house the holiday season often lasted until after Ground Hog Day. It was usually early February before Mom carefully removed the ornaments, the strings of lights, and the tinfoil icicles from our Christmas tree and swept up the pile of pine needles from the floor.
This year my wife Emmaline and I took down the outside and inside decorations, including my Christmas train, on Jan. 2. The Christmas train is my pride and joy.
I bought it years ago in Atlanta. I had flown down to attend a niece’s December wedding. I arrived a day early. The women invited me to go shopping with them. In a department store I saw a toy train running around a track.
It was a Christmas Train—Santa atop the engine. It had four cars plus a caboose. The train had lights, and the figures moved.
Decades dropped away. I was seven or eight years old again. I had to have that train. Never mind that it cost $250; never mind that the box it came in was larger than a hard sider suitcase. I took out my credit card.
Now each Christmas season, after I have inexpertly installed the outside house lights and Emmaline has expertly and creatively decorated the inside of the house, I open the box and take out my Christmas Train.
I’ve cut assembly time to two hours. One has to put together the track, attach the electric gear, hook up the cars (each car is attached to the car ahead by a little black umbilical cord that makes the figures move and the lights dance). I’ve been known to cuss a bit as I assemble the train.
It’s a wonderful train. One pushes the ON button. One pushes the forward button. A voice shouts “All Aboard.” Bells ring, a realistic train whistle blows, and the train moves around the track. Santa goes “ho, ho, ho.”
For the first few years I had the train to myself. Then my granddaughter came along and wanted to run the train. Then my grandson came along and wanted to run the train. Then Emmaline told me to let the grandchildren help me assemble the train.
I steadfastly resisted that suggestion until Christmas 2008. My granddaughter is now eight and my grandson is five. Emmaline sand bagged me. She didn’t tell me the kids were coming until they were at the front door.
When they came in Emmaline said, “You can help Grandpa put his train together.”
I said, “Okay. Okay, kids, this is a very difficult project, so watch carefully and I’ll show you how I do it.”
Then Emmaline called me to come upstairs. It was the kind of pre-preemptory call that I’ve learned not to ignore.
“I’ll be RIGHT BACK,” I said. “You kids go to Grandma’s office and play computer games. We’ll put the train together when I get back.”
After a few minutes I heard kid voices from the living room. I took four steps down the back stairs. Emmaline ordered me, in a preemptory voice, to finish my assigned task. Several elongated minutes later I sprinted for the living room.
Halfway down the stairs I heard a robotic voice say “All Aboard!” My heart sank. Had the kids gotten the electrical apparatus out of the big box and plugged it in? What harm such mischief might do to my train I could only imagine.
I charged down stairs and into the living room.
“Ding, Ding, Ding,” “Whooo, Whooo, Whooo,” “All Aboard,” “Merry Christmas!” “Ho, Ho, Ho,” “Chug, Chug, Chug.”
My train was fully assembled and running around the track. My granddaughter was at the controls and my grandson was jumping back and forth across the track just ahead of the train.
“Grandpa, we put the train together!”
The grandkids weren’t here on Jan. 2 when I put on my engineer’s cap and ran the train around the track one last time. Then I put it back in the box for another year.
I hope my grandkids will let me help them put the train together next December.
Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co