It hasn’t seemed much like Christmas time in SoCal – it was 80F yesterday. Not being a native, Santa in shorts doesn’t quite do it for me. I was in quite a rut as I heard a lawn being mowed. After all – it is December 24th!
But, there’s one thing that screams “it’s Christmas” – and that’s the train under the Christmas tree.
I put the trains up today, and I have to admit, my attitude and demeanor changed when I was done as I sat there watching them run around their ovals.
Etta makes here blog debut above – she’s checking out the trains. I couldn’t get her to pose for her debut – she was too busy trying to figure out who the interlopers are that smell of plastic and metal. While the awe of Etta and Ella over seeing trains under the tree for the first time was heartwarming, it’s nothing compared to the feeling I still get when the trains go up.
It’s not the best picture that could have been taken of this – I took it with my phone – and I almost dug out my D-90 and flash to make it “right”. And then I took a breath. And then I remembered the family photos as I was growing up weren’t much different – a Kodak Instamatic with a fixed lens and a flash that usually gave a hot spot. And then I smiled, and I decided that the picture was just fine as it was.
There’s a story behind the trains. In the foreground, the Budd RDC cars are the first new Lionel set I ever bought. It was a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, far away. Terry Bradshaw and Jack Lambert were still playing – it was that long ago! In the background is my newest Lionel set – the Peanuts Christmas train, a gift from J-Frog last year. So, there’s family history in the making.
But… As I was crawling around on the floor setting up the Lionel, I paused to wonder if it’s the same these days for kids.
“Back when”, it was the excitement of getting the platform out, and then getting the train out. The excitement built as the track was assembled, and then as the engine and passenger cars came out of their boxes. Switches were wired, and the power section wired to the big ZW transformer. And then… it was time… The sparks flying under the engine and the cars as the oxidation wore off the rails and power rollers. The acrid smell of the transformer as it warmed up. The sights and sounds of the holidays!
Growing up, the family train set was a Lionel Santa Fe passenger train from circa 1958. For decades, Lionel imprinted the Santa Fe into America’s youth via the F-3 diesel in the Santa Fe “Warbonnet” paint scheme. Visions of traveling in streamlined stainless steel passenger cars – and the dome car – were doubtless planted as well. This set supplanted a Lionel tinplate O-27 set from circa 1936 that was in my Dad’s family as he was growing up. The set is still around, but by the time we were young, the engine was somewhat fussy and didn’t run consistently.
I finally saw my first “real” Santa Fe Warbonnet in 1989 on a FP-45, but I’ve still yet to see a F-3 or F-7 in real warbonnet paint.
So, back to my pause and wondering… The questions that are still bouncing around in my head are real, and perhaps a bit sad and melancholy…
How many families are keeping this tradition alive? I’m guessing that trains are the exception rather than the rule these days.
How many trains are hidden away in boxes, languishing and wondering when they’ll be able to run and and run… (I saw a Toy Story short on television last night – and, well, you can’t help but wonder – can you?)
How many children look forward to the train being a symbol of the season?
How many young boys and teens will go back to school in January to see who gets bragging rights over the newest/best train? Somehow, I doubt there will be a lot, and that’s sad.
How many children even know what a Lionel train is?
What would a child of today want more – a smart phone or a train? If it’s a smart phone, well, I guess I get it. But I can’t help but wonder if they know what they are missing.
The somber part of me realizes that times have changed, and things are far from simple anymore.
I’ll sit there and watch the trains for who knows how long.
There’s something about it. Hypnotic. Relaxing. Restorative. Contemplative. Reflective. Mindful. Thankful. Peaceful. Simple. Healing. So, maybe there’s more to it than just a train running around a tree.
We could probably use more trains, and not just for what they are, but what they bring to families and the holidays.
Maybe we should share this and start a grass-roots movement to bring back the trains around the tree and get back to some of the basics that seem to have gone by the wayside… It certainly couldn’t make things any more crazy than they are these days. could it?
That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night…