When I was a kid, my dad would sometimes set up a toy train set around the base of our Christmas tree. I suppose I played with that train at other times, but in my memory, whenever that train appears, it is Christmas.
I rememember being fascinated by elaborate toy train setups in store Christmas displays as a kid, in fact, I am yet. I still love to look at such displays as an adult, especially around the Christmas season.
I saw a toy train in a store the other day and it brought back a buzz of Christmases past so strong and vivid that I felt as if I could climb aboard that little train and travel back to wonderful Yuletide seasons of my childhood.
The current mood of the country and the political divisions that feel like they can never be bridged threaten to rob us of our Christmas joy this year…if we allow it. I want to go back to a time before I ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. I long for a time when politics was a foreign concept.
I want to board that little toy train and set course for my grandparents’ mountain farm in East Tennessee in the late 70s when I would experience such joyous, warm family Christmases.
I want to feel the thrill of packing up the car, climbing into the back seat with my little brother, and starting down the road from Indiana to Tennessee after school ended and our vacation finally arrived. I want to experience the wide-eyed wonder of looking out the window at all the Christmas light displays as we sped along the highways to get to grandpa and grandma’s house. I want to smell the delicious Christmas fudges, pies and cakes kept chilled on the back porch as we passed through it to enter the house through the kitchen. I want to experience again the pure joy of entering the small living room, seeing the Christmas tree adorned with lights and little red bird ornaments (one of which actually made a chirping noise which was, as far as the 10 year-old me was concerned, just about the coolest thing in the world) and then running up to hug my grandma and grandpa and hearing them, in their thick Southern Appalachian drawl, tell me how tall I was getting. I want to, once more, kneel down beside the coffee table and play with the nativity scene that always sat there through the holidays. I want to gaze again at the little candle stick on that same table that would, when lit, generate heat that caused delicate little brass angels to spin around on top (another bit of holiday technology that blew my 10 year-old mind). I want to walk down the back hallway, past the Warm Morning wood stove, to the bathroom to find the cheery little green and red commode-lid cover that, when closed, revealed a smiling Santa Claus face but, when opened, showed a bashful old Saint Nick covering his eyes with his mittened hands (that gag never got old, not to this 10 year-old). I want to smell the holly boughs cut fresh from the tree that grew on the hillside just back behind the house. I long to feel the anticipation of opening the huge piles of presents on Christmas eve night, half excited to see what awaited me, but just as eager to share in the joy of watching others in my family receive their gifts. I ache to hear my dear, sweet grandma read again the Christmas story from Luke Chapter 2 before we opened those presents. I want to watch, with fascination and curiosity, my grandpa open his presents with surgical precision, a pocket knife for his scalpel, and then carefully and thoughtfully note in a little pad of paper the names of each person who graced him with a gift. I want to experience laughing with disbelief at the immense pile of discarded wrapping paper on the floor after all the presents were opened. I long to again experience the excitement of getting up on Christmas morning and playing with all the new games and toys we’d opened the night before.
Oh how those sweet memories come flooding back, so rich in their detail that I can still sense the smells. I can still hear the laughter. I can still feel the heat of the wood stove on my skin and the warmth of loving family in my soul.
I remember that we had a president back then. It was Jimmy Carter. I may have been able to tell you at the time that he was a Democrat but I couldn’t have told you what that meant. I didn’t care what that meant. I was ten, I hadn’t eaten of the fruit yet. That wouldn’t happen for a few more years yet. Remember how sweet that fruit of knowledge seemed at the time? What I wouldn’t give to go back in time, spit it out and run away.
I hadn’t been feeling a lot of joy in the last few months, not before I saw that train in the store that carried me back to so long ago. I had allowed people I have never met, nor will likely ever meet, to rob me of my joy. I know all about Democrats and Republicans now. I shouldn’t let them, but they get to me from time to time. When they do, joy is easily replaced by frustration, or even rage or despair.
I am going to try harder to not get dragged down by them so much this holiday season. My grandma and grandpa aren’t with us anymore, but I still have the rest of the family that shared those long ago Christmases with me. And now, our family has grown. I have a daughter who is making her own forever memories now. I owe it to her not to let strangers rob her dad of his joy. Life is too short to let such nonsense define your quality of life.
I resolve to hold onto my joy this holiday season.
Maybe I’ll even buy a toy train.