So once upon a time there was a guy. And over the course of his childhood and adolescence, he was in the habit of acquiring model trains for he and his brothers to play with. Nowadays, these would be referred to as “old school” trains, with the fancy switches, electricity to power them, little reservoirs that you can fill with dry ice or something so that the little smokestacks really spit out smoke, everything mounted to big swaths of plywood with fake grass, dirt, mountains, matchbox cars, and 1 inch high people strewn about. This guy, as he got older, thought to himself… you know, wouldn’t it be cool if I could have a couple boys (or, I suppose, girls) and when they’re old enough, they can play with this stuff too. We’ll be able to make it a father/son (or, I suppose, daughter) project and they can learn all about electricity, being responsible with potentially dangerous stuff, and so on. I should also note that this guy would have been thinking and saying these things in German, since he was my Dad, and was in Austria at the time those thoughts would have been percolating.
I should maybe take a moment here, and note that some of this story I’m telling second hand, I was either not there yet or too young to remember when some of these details were happening. I’m also not quite sure of the sequence of events, but it isn’t that important. I suspect there was some embellishment on the part of story-teller, but it still makes for a good yarn, so just bear with me.
Anyway, so let us fast forward a few years now, and now that guy is married, and has two kids, aged 4 and 2. Still in Vienna at this point, but already planning to move over the good ol’ US of A, where the lovely lady has most of her family, and of course, misses them terribly. At some point here, this guy’s stepmother decides that she is going to take that whole train set and all of its associated trimmings and trappings, and send them off to one of her nephews. Dad was apparently not consulted on this, nor was anyone else that might have had some relevant input to the decision. If I’m conveying a bit of bitterness, it is because there was some. I’ll leave it at that, since, again… this predates me, and it is hard for me to feel a lot of emotion about something that couldn’t possibly have mattered to me at that point in my life.
Ok, so there was some animosity, regret, sadness, opportunity missed for some quality Dad/son time there, and life went on.
Another fast forward, and here I am, now a Dad myself. Two kids, 4 and almost 2. And lo, check it out. Opa David (my Dad-in-Law) decides to send us his trains. Once again, these are the old school variety. I haven’t done a complete inventory yet. I do know that there are at least there are two locomotives, at least 3 cars, and a whole mess of track. There are two of the “transformer” boxes that let you regulate the speed and direction of the train. There will need to be some cleaning, probably a few parts that need to be replaced, but even with the very limited stuff we set up today, we were able to get a functioning oval of track around the Christmas tree with one of the locomotives and two cars hanging off behind. It throws off a few sparks here and there, lights flicker on some particular rusty bits of track, but it runs!
This will be a long project, spanning a bunch of years, especially since the kids are pretty young still. This kind of thing, I believe, is a labor of love, with long hours spent with sandpaper, modelling glue, and linear miles of wire so that the little streetlights will all turn on when the room gets dark. Perhaps I’m letting my imagination get away from me a bit here, but … well, what good is that darn thing for anyway, if not to close your eyes and let it run a bit wild the possibilities.
So thank you Opa David. Someday, Madeline and Nicholas will come to appreciate what I already know… just how special a gift this is.
Happy Holidays to all!