Toy Trains

I don’t remember Christmas when I was two years old. Pictures show me smiling as I sit on my new tricycle. On the floor around me are my other gifts, including a small train track with a few cars on it.

According to the story, my dad wanted to get me a toy train set for Christmas. “You can’t give a girl a train set!” my mom told him. “Why not?” he asked. He thought it was a fine gift for any child. As the second of 3 boys, he wasn’t around girls while growing up so his reference point was what he and his brothers had played with.

I am sure you can imagine who actually played with the toy trains. Growing up he always had to share with his brothers, but this time he was in charge. In fact, I’m not sure if I ever played with it, and since I had one sibling, a younger sister born 7 months after I received it, my dad probably played with it more than anyone.

Twenty-five years later, my mom mentioned that several of their friends were putting train sets under their Christmas trees as decoration. She thought it was a fun idea, and of course, my dad was fascinated to watch them go around. That gave me an idea.

My dad was always hard to buy gifts for. If he asked for anything, it was something practical that he needed. A homemade card meant more to him than anything that could be bought, and in later years, his usual reply was “just come home for Christmas.” So buying him a train set, one that was his – no sharing with brothers, no pretending it was his daughter’s gift – seemed the perfect opportunity to give him something fun and completely unexpected.

The look of joy on his face when he opened that gift is one of my favorite Christmas memories as an adult. I didn’t often surprise my dad, but the train set did. It was a larger than the one I received, both in the number of cars and the size of them. After Christmas, he carefully padded the top of the dining room table, placed a large piece of plywood on top, attached the track, and played with the train set for months. He added more cars, and more track to handle them. Eventually, it entertained the grandchildren as it ran under the soft glow of the Christmas tree lights, letting a third generation share the joy of toy trains at Christmas.

You can listen to an audio version here.

Candy Canes

There were always candy canes in our stockings on Christmas morning. Not only did Santa put gifts under the tree, according to our mom, he also filled our stockings and left the candy cane at the top.

My grandmother had handmade stockings for my sister and me. Each December we pulled them out with the rest of the Christmas decorations and hung them on the mantle above the fireplace. Actually, the fireplace had been bricked up and a gas heater sat in its place, but the mantle remained and was the perfect place to hang our stockings among the other seasonal decorations.

Christmas morning, after opening our gifts, we’d turn our attention to the stockings. First, we’d remove the candy cane at the top. We’d pull back the plastic wrapper and suck on the peppermint-y sweetness as we emptied our stockings to see what else Santa had brought. We’d continue sucking away, the candy cane growing shorter by the minute, as we began playing with our gifts. We’d still be enjoying the last of it while helping pick up discarded wrapping paper and bows with sticky fingers.

We grew older and learned it wasn’t Santa who put gifts under the tree after we went to bed on Christmas Eve. Momma still made sure the candy canes were in our stockings every Christmas morning. When we moved away to college, the candy canes still appeared. When we each married, and later when grandchildren arrived, more stockings were added to the mantle and a candy cane was in each one.

It was a tradition we all loved and expected. One year, my mom couldn’t find the candy canes she was sure she had bought, so my sister and I were dispatched to the store to buy more. We fought a packed parking lot, a crowded store, and a long wait in the check out line to keep the tradition alive another year.

After I divorced and began spending some Christmases alone, I didn’t bother buying candy canes. While I like the flavor of peppermint, I’m not a huge fan of the candy. Besides, I had no place to hang a stocking. So I stopped the tradition. Even now, after meeting my boyfriend, and moving in together, I don’t do candy canes. Like me, he isn’t concerned about decorating for Christmas, and he doesn’t like sweets, so I didn’t have a reason to renew the tradition.

But now he has a grandson, and I’m thinking the time may be right. I’ll make a stocking, find a place to hang it, and put in a candy cane on Christmas morning, telling him that Santa left it just for him.

You can listen to an audio version of this story here.