As a young child I grew up in Western New York. My father, a pastor, had gone there when I was four years old to start a new church. In addition to pastoring the church, he worked full time at Montgomery Wards.
One of my fondest memories as a young child was when dad would bring home the new Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog each fall. The employees always got it early and I would spend hours and hours looking through the colorful pages, dreaming of what it would be like to receive such wonderful gifts.
Dad’s income was meager to say the least so trendy toys and stylish clothes were outside the realm of possibility. Our gifts usually consisted of things returned to the store because there was a missing part or some kind of damage. Mom would fix clothing that was missing a button or had a jammed zipper and give it to us for Christmas. Both mom and dad, raised in the hills of Kentucky in the years following the Great Depression, were proud to give us our store bought gifts, even if they were slightly less than perfect.
When the Christmas catalog came out in the fall of 1963, when I was eight years old, something caught my eye each time I opened the “dream book”…an electric model train. The catalog had a picture of the train set assembled with the plastic mountains and trees situated on a green piece of plywood with smoke coming out of the locomotive’s smoke stack as it rounded the curve in the tracks. In the background a father and son had their hands on the transformer controlling the speed of the train.
That was what I wanted for Christmas. That’s all I wanted. I didn’t care if I got anything else or not…I just wanted that train.
Looking back on it now, I think what I really wanted was for my dad to help me put it together, stay with me and play with it and be like the father and son in the picture. I didn’t understand that then…I just knew I wanted that train.
When Christmas day came, there was only one gift for me. It was a big square box. When I ripped off the wrapping paper I still could not tell what the plain brown cardboard box contained. Dad helped me cut the tape which sealed the box closed. As we opened the box I could see each of the railroad cars, the miniature cardboard freight boxes, the plastic trees and telephone poles and even a bottle of liquid smoke to make the locomotive smoke like the one in the picture.
My dream had come true.
I have no idea how dad afforded the train set. Perhaps it was missing something or had been returned. At eight years old I didn’t know to ask and I’m glad I didn’t. Dad was so proud to be able to give me what I wanted. He spent most of Christmas Day with me and we set up the train set and ran it all day long. That’s the last day dad ever spent with me and my train, but it is still one of my prized possessions, 48 years later. Every once in a while, I still get it out and set it up. It still runs.
Dad is gone now. This will be my first Christmas without him. Maybe I’ll set up the train and remember the day when I got all I wanted for Christmas.