It was Christmas Day in 1968. I was five years old. Santa Claus had come
I was sure. I had done my best to be a good boy. As good as I could be.
I loved toy cars, I loved teddy bears, and I loved trains. What would
Santa have brought down our chimney?
I left my bedroom on the second floor and padded down the stairs to the family
room, where the Christmas tree was--a white tacky, plastic number that grew to
represent this festive day to me.
What greeted me was a site I still remember over forty years later. It was an
S scale American Flyer train set that my parents and older brothers had cleaned
up to give to me. It had been in the family for a while at that point, but
was still in good condition. They had rewired and scraped off any rust that
was apparent on the solid metal tracks.
S Scale as some of you will know, is larger than HO scale. The trains have
heft and fill your hand, or are too big for your hands when you are only five.
They make a solid train sound when they run over those rails on a
wooden board, and if you get your little five year old head down to that level
and watch the train coming, it feels like you are really there and
that pine forest is real.
The transformer had a speed gage which I loved. You could choose at what speed
to run your engine at, I think I chose to cruise at 60 miles per hour but might
run it at over 100 on the straight aways. I was careful not to
de-rail. I had important packages and needless to say, passengers I had to
deliver safely to their destinations.
My family had painted a large 4' by 8' board green. They had a mini-tree
forest and there were lichen hedges to complete the scene.
There was an operating train crossing that would set off lights and bells
when the American Flyer approached. Moreover, the man at the factory would
react when you stopped in front of his chute and pressed a button. A box
would slide down the chute into the waiting box car. We were a little behind
schedule. TBut that was okay as soon the boxcar door would close and off the
American Flyer would go I imagined to unload her cargo in some far off miniature
There were no computer games when I was five, no Playstation 3. Life was
simpler then. But I could spend hours with that American Flyer train and
imagine alternate futures I might have. There were no thoughts of being
a doctor, lawyer, accountant nor teacher for me then.
Being the train crossing man did not enthuse me.
I didn`t really relish being that factory guy in the blue suit and hat. I
didn`t merely want to to push a box down a chute, I wanted to drive that train.
Would I be the engineer? I thought so. That was the only job for me. And
I could be anything I wanted at five.
Santa didn`t give me the American Flyer. But it didn`t matter. My family
gave me one of the best presents I have ever received.
by Kevin Burns