Five years earlier I had received my very first train set for Christmas. It was the Lionel “Empire State” set which featured a gray colored engine with a headlight and a matching tender with a whistle. The set included a pipe car with three metal pipes, a silver oil tanker car and a red metal caboose. Of course the set was complete with an oval of three-rail track and a 60-watt transformer. I had been six years old then and I thought it was one of the best Christmas presents I had ever received!
Santa Claus had set up the trains during the night and as our family trooped into the living room on Christmas morning --- there were the trains running around the track in front of the Christmas tree. Man, what a great Christmas that was! And every Christmas after that I would receive a couple new items for the train set. The first year it was a silver operating boxcar with an automatic track piece and a controller. When you pushed the red button on the controller, the doors on the boxcar opened and out tumbled six little plastic Babe Ruth cartons --- one at a time! On subsequent Christmases I received a blinking crossing signal, operating switch tracks, a rotary beacon tower, a Cape Cod house, a barn, and a pond with a bridge over it. Life was good!
Now it was five years later and, once again, it was Christmas morning. Our family had increased in size since that Christmas Day when I had received my first train set. Back then it was just me, my kid sister and Mom and Dad. But the year after that train set had arrived my Mom had given birth again. That time she had had twins --- and I had gained a brother and an additional sister. Soon after that we had moved out of our three-bedroom rancher into a four-bedroom two-story colonial. So now the six of us were marching down the stairs together on Christmas morning. Since I was no longer a “believer” in Old Saint Nick, for several years I had been permitted to set my trains up in the den a week or so before Christmas. Yes, my trains were already set up this year and I was in high expectation of receiving a new super-duper 110-watt transformer which I had requested and which would enable my train to run quite a bit faster. I mean it would almost double the wattage of my old transformer!
Our family was now reaching the bottom of the stairs. As I began to walk towards the Christmas tree I couldn’t believe what I saw! A brand new train set was running around the tree! Smoke was coming out of the engine! The engine and tender were black instead of gray! And they pulled four other cars --- a gondola car, a hopper, a tanker car and a caboose. It looked great! I just couldn’t believe it! “Oh, man”, I yelled, “This train is beautiful!”
Just then I heard the quiet voice of my father, “Sorry, Son, but you seem to have forgotten that you have a bother now.” A brother? A brother? You mean this great train set is for some four-year-old little kid? I didn’t get my first train set until I was six! I was in shock!
Over the next several hours my shock turned to disappointment --- and finally to acceptance. My brother’s train set was better than mine. It was more realistic looking. The engine had smoke. The tender’s whistle was more realistic sounding. It came with 6 cars instead of five. It had a 90-watt transformer instead of a 60-watt. But at least I had received the 110-watt transformer that I had asked for that Christmas --- as well as a neat passenger & freight station. Life would go on.
Over the years my brother and I would set up our train sets together --- and two trains would race around on their respective tracks. We would both receive additional cars, operating accessories, houses, stores, people and animals for our trains each Christmas. They would all be placed together on a big layout in the basement. But we each knew what items belonged to whom.
I didn’t set my trains up at Christmastime when I was in college --- or in the Navy --- or while in law school. But after I was married and had twins of my own, the trains were set up every Christmas. My brother and I remained close. We were Best Man at each other’s weddings and had a lot of fun together over the years. One day when I was 39, my brother, now 32, stopped over to our house (yes, it was also a 2-story 4-bedroom colonial) and announced that he was moving across the country to California. He asked me to come out to his car. As we walked down the driveway he explained to me that he wanted to “lend” me his complete train set until he needed them again. He said that I could use them on my train layout and “keep them in shape”. The two of us then carried several boxes of his trains from his car into our house. Soon after that day he moved to California.
It is now fifty years since that Christmas morning when I mistakenly thought I had received a great new train set. My train layout now has a room of its own. Seven trains run on four different levels. There are all kinds of buildings, lights, train cars, other accessories, animated scenes, people, animals, two trolley cars, a gang car --- even an amusement park with a large Ferris wheel. My original train still runs on its own track --- as does my brother’s train. He never asked for it back. And I guess I knew he wouldn’t. My brother has visited a number of times and we have taken turns running the trains. My brother still lives in California. My dad died over seventeen years ago. But I can still remember those words he spoke so many years ago: “you have a brother now”.
Looking back I can now understand that Dad understood my disappointment that Christmas morning. But he also knew that he and my mother had given me something much more important than another train set. I wish my brother were here tonight.
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