AAAH, I remember it well!
Dean Martin - lyrics - "Sweet, sweet, the memories you gave to me... Memories are made of this..."
"Come to me my Melancholy Baby..."
"Primrose Lane, life's a Holiday, on Primrose Lane, even roses blooming in the lane, with you... Sweet perfume, those little old roses in June, I want to walk with you, my whole life through..."
MY CHRISTMAS GARDEN
COPYRIGHT: NOVEMBER 24, 2007 - Tom Hyland
Our THING started on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving Day. Out to Dad's garage we would go, and little me would struggle to help drag that big heavy platform, the base for our Christmas Garden, the fifty feet or so, up the cement path and into the living room, or PARLOR.
Next came the Blessed BOXES - one with the old Lionel Train set, with tracks and switches, the other contained all the Plasticville houses, along with Railway Station, Church, Barn, cars, trucks, people, and even animals. Dad's RITUAL was to carefully clean every piece of track, assemble the oval pattern, and we would painstakingly tap little blue/black tacks into the plywood. My tool was a cute little Ball-peen hammer!
Next, the locomotive engine car was carefully unwrapped, inspected, and all wheels of all cars were oiled with a little can of 3-in-1 oil. Absolutely NOTHING else was placed on that 4X8 garden platform until after the TRAINS WERE TESTED and working perfectly! Being a small tad, it was I who squirmed under that magnificent, strong, homemade platform to attach the low voltage wires and Dad held the flashlight for me!
For the REST OF THE STORY, you'll have to come visit - MY CHRISTMAS GARDEN!
ED ... thank you, again, for taking us all down MEMORY LANE... A DELIGHTFUL TRIP!
Tom. ---> Continued …
After attaching the train track wires and the ones to the Transformer, next were the normal house-power wires to light up each little house. When this was done, and totally tested, and each bulb securely screwed in, and nestled into each socket, then we plugged it in - VOILA! Let there be light!
Then, with just a bare platform, with only the lights and trains thereon, Dad and I very carefully pushed and slid that heavy platform back into the corner, nestled on the two sides by walls. It was then, and only then, that ALL LIGHTS on the first floor were turned off! OH - WHAT A FEELING! This was way, way before Toyota ever adopted their commercial slogan! In fact, Americans never ever even heard of that Japanese car company yet!
Dad, always as excited as me, would then turn the transformer on, and carefully run JUST the engine around the track. At first, it was very slowly and gingerly navigated around the course. Gradually, he would ease the speed up a notch or so. Until eventually, he would attempt MAXIMUM WARP, as Captain Kirk might someday say, way in the future to come.
OOPS! OH, NO! The engine jumped the track! Something wasn’t quite right! Not to worry, now Dad simply ambled over to his toolbox, selected the appropriate helper; usually his trusty wooden four-foot level, embellished with shiny brass, and then start checking for PLUMBNESS. Once he determined where to start, that back corner was mostly the culprit - he would hand me a couple of wooden shims, and off I would squirm again - under the garden, to the dark recesses of that cavernous corner. With the overhead lights back on, he would meticulously watch the bubble in the level, as I tried various thicknesses. OKAY! We got it! “Now, relax a minute Tommy, while I recheck the other end.”
When this sometimes lengthy process was completed, then - one by one, it was my job to carefully maneuver the train around the track and stop it properly, so Dad could add each trailing car. The original old MARX set was made of beautifully detailed, painted tin cars, and had spring-loaded connecting mechanisms. Needless to say, adult participation was quite necessary for this careful step.
Directly behind the heavy cast-iron locomotive came the Tender car, with its load of black coal. This was usually followed by the Gondola, which had an open empty bed, which I could later fill and refill with various cargoes, like Lincoln Logs, for instance. Then came the Boxcar, with its little sliding doors on each side. Plastic cattle, horses, and other animals would later go in and out, with my help! Next would be the Tank-Car, a shiny silver little guy. Although it did not have any parts to open, the detail of little pipes and top-mounted loading portals, and rivets were quite eye-catching. Finally, the last but not least car, the Caboose was attached. Like the engine in the front, this little red guy had an interior LIGHT, which tended to flicker on and off, as the train clickety-clacked around the tracks!
Now, anyone not fully trained and experienced with this tedious procedure might think - “Why bother?”
“Elementary, my Dear Watson…” Weeks later, often on the actual Christmas Eve itself, Dad and I would walk down Light Street, to Cross Street Market, and select and purchase that Perfect Christmas Tree that Ed Kostro mentioned. Once all of those houses and people, and animals and cars, and other structures were positioned into the garden, along with the tree itself, it would be REALLY, REALLY DIFFICULT to reach into the way-back to fix a TRAIN WRECK! Yes, Virginia, we are supposed to learn from experience!
Now, with the entire ensemble properly connected and ready to roll - with the added weight of the trailing cars helping to keep the locomotive stable, it was time for the final TEST - usually, Dad would perform this, just in case anything went wrong - Heck, he wouldn’t want me to feel blamed, would he?
ALL ABOARD! We would both chant, announcing points of destination, which we imagined. But, before touching the controls, Dad would holler out, “Ethel, come on in here!” Whereupon, Mom would leave the kitchen where she was cooking something, and join us, bringing a tray of sugar cookies, and something to wash them down with!
ALL ABOARD! Slowly at first, then gradually picking up speed, OLE FAITHFUL would do his job! After several round trips, accompanied by my begging: “Dad, lem’me do it! Lem’me do it!” Eventually, the “Old Man” would relinquish his position of control, a little homemade wooden stool, which conveniently slid right under the legs of the platform. Removing his real denim-and-white striped Engineer’s Cap, and carefully putting it on my head, he would join Mom on the old fuzzy maroon-colored woolen sofa, and they would watch me playing ENGINEER!
As I write these words today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, 2007 - I realize two things: Just about SIXTY YEARS have come and gone - AND - just about everyone who might know about these happenings is also long dead and gone - to Heaven, no less! GOD BLESS THEM - EVERY ONE!
Well now, getting back to our story, from Thanksgiving weekend, for that exciting month of anticipation of the coming of those TWO SPECIAL PERSONS - BABY JESUS and SANTA CLAUS - up and until Christmas Day itself, we were busy, busy, busy! The entire house just had to be cleaned and DECORATED! I had to frequently TEST the trains, just to make sure everything was OKAY, right? Dad tended to believe in HIS re-checking also - just a kid at heart, I guess?
After the tree was purchased, dragged home, got its bottom sawed-off, so fresh water could be gurgled up, to keep it fresh - then meticulously decorated with all the old memorabilia - beautiful blown-glass balls, stars, icicles (one year, they came out with plastic, glow-in-the dark ones, remember?) - glass bubble-lights, filled with some kind of oil I guess? - homemade painted wooden stars, made out of Popsicle sticks, real popcorn, strung on a string by hand, using a needle, little baby balls, medium-sized balls, really BIG BALLS - and ALWAYS, ALWAYS - a beautiful ANGEL or STAR at the top!
And also, ALWAYS, ALWAYS - at the base of the tree, nestled on top of the white cotton cover, glistening with shiny particles, resembling new-fallen snow, sat THE MANGER! THE NATIVITY SCENE - with the Three Wise Men, Shepherds, Lambs, and the lowly little DONKEY, who carried Mary and her tiny BABE to Bethlehem!
“I BRING YOU TIDINGS OF GREAT JOY!” -
THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD!
Well, Dear Friends, although Mom and Dad were married Catholic, and raised their three children Catholic, the two of them rarely ever went to church. On the really special HOLY DAYS, like Easter and Christmas, they did get with the program!
There were many, many, many Christmas Eves, when other family members would just “pop in” - unplanned, unannounced, but ALWAYS WELCOME! One of Dad’s favorite sayings was: “You’re as welcome as the flowers in May!”
Aunt Honey, his sister, or Uncle Dave, a brother, or sometimes, even Dad himself, would sit down on the old piano stool, and start “tickling the ivories” on the old piano keyboard in the living room. Everyone would gather around, and “Make a Joyful Noise Unto The Lord!” Renditions of - “Silent Night - Holy Night - Deck The Halls - Adeste Fideles - Oh Come All Ye Faithful - Oh Little Town of Bethlehem - and more - were BELTED OUT at the top of our voices! Eggnog - homemade, with real eggs, rum, and whiskey was plentifully poured and consumed. Sugar cookies were devoured ravenously, and even those yucky old filled hard-candies were passed around. I only liked the Walnut, and the Chocolate filled ones!
Sometimes, Uncle Ben was there, and Uncle Harry and Aunt Agnes, and my God-Parents, Marian and Harry Calvert, or even Aunt Mary and Uncle John Goetze might make it. On rare occasions, even Aunt Ida and Uncle John Hyland would roll in, from way up in Massachusetts! Neighbors and other friends would often be there also. What a GRAND TIME we all had!
BUT - sometime well before eleven post media, you could always count on one thing - Aunt Honey, the staunch Catholic, clock-watcher would ANNOUNCE - “It’s time to leave - we don’t want to be late for MIDNIGHT MASS!” There was never ever any escaping it - she always made sure that The Lord got His DUE!
We would bundle up, jump into someone else’s car (Dad didn’t drive anymore, nor even own a car, since the ACCIDENT - his best friend, AL BRANNON went through the windshield and almost died - so, given the choice between DRINKING and driving - he chose the Former) - drive up to Saint Mary’s Star of The Sea, sing again at Mass, then return home, crack open the BOOZE, and SING SOME MORE! No one could guess that we were Irish Catholics, could one?
I’m guessing that it was around 1954, when he died - OLE FAITHFUL, our trusty, dependable old locomotive, and, as luck would have it, t’was on Christmas Eve! What a catastrophe! TRADITION! TRADITION! There was no way we would not have a working train!
So, off Dad and I went, down Light Street, after checking in several busy, crowded stores, we wound up buying a beautiful new Lionel set at Four Besche Brothers! We anxiously hustled home with this brand new WONDER, that had a newly invented feature - MAGNATRACTION! This powerful baby would NOT jump the tracks! WOW!
Dad and I carefully opened each well-packed little box, and gingerly placed each car on the O2 GAUGE track. What a BEAUTIFUL SIGHT TO BEHOLD! Now, for the transformer - where is it? “Tommy, did you see it?” NOPE! We then meticulously picked up and closed, and shook every little box and packing - NADA! NOTHING! ZILCH!
Dad was furious! He reread the larger outer box listing of parts - nothing! DUH? What IDIOT would forget to pack a transformer in a brand spanking NEW TRAIN SET? It was now getting late, and out the door we rushed, almost in sheer panic. Down to the store, we went, huffing and puffing, by the time we navigated those eight or nine long city blocks. Although Dad had regained his normal, pleasant composure, when the salesman explained that NO TRANSFORMER was included - AND - they didn’t have even ONE left in the store to sell. Then he was LIVID!
Back up the street we rushed, about two blocks, to the Hardware store on the corner of Light and West streets. It was packed with last minute shoppers, and we were really, really, really concerned. As Luck, or Fate, or GOD would have it - THEY HAD ONE! The exact perfect one that we needed!
It was a newer model, with two lever controls. The red one, on the right, was the speed controller, and the black one, on the left had two features - it not only allowed changing the Wattage, but also, when pushed to its left, would BLOW THE ENGINE’S WHISTLE! HOT DOG! And the engine came with a bottle of little white pills, and a wooden plunger - you dropped one in the smokestack, crushed it down just a tad, and as the train steamed along the tracks, with its headlight glowing, IT BELLOWED OUT PUFFS OF SMOKE! “What Miracle hath God wrought?” came to mind.
Back to the old homestead we flew - not unlike Corsairs! Out of the box it came, wires were connected onto the little screw-threaded poles, and VOILA! THE NEW TRAIN STARTED UP IMMEDIATELY!
Quite naturally, again Dad had to do the initial TESTING! I don’t have a clue as to who was more excited, him or me? I’d put my money on Dad though! This was a more magnificent thing to him - a brand new train set after all those years! His brother Harry and he had the exact same old set, which they had nursed after, for about twenty years or more. As he gleamed with the PRIDE of accomplishment, I distinctly remember him saying: “WAIT TIL HARRY SEES THIS!”
THAT particular Christmas was a truly good one! Our initial disappointment and subsequent persistence had been rewarded with a new-fangled TOY for both of us! CHRISTMAS WAS SAVED!
And, believe me, we BUDDIES, we ENGINEERS, had cemented a long-lasting true friendship that night, that never ever diminished - MY DAD WAS ALWAYS MY BEST FRIEND! As he was apt to say: he’s been “PUSHING UP DAISIES” now, since July 1985 - he made it to age 84, and is never ever forgotten!
In closing, perhaps the title might more aptly be called OUR CHRISTMAS GARDEN, but knowing Dad, he would never want to “Steal my Thunder!” We engineers stick together! So, I just left it with the original idea.
I still have that same Lionel Train Set, to this day. - 54 YEARS LATER! I’ve pondered passing it on to my son, Tom - and on several occasions, when I’ve been really BROKE, I’ve considering selling it to a collector. It has appreciated substantially in value through the years, and brought joy to the eyes of many children, throughout many years. And I remember teaching both Ann and Tom how to do the TESTING and SET-UP when they were little tykes, but you just can’t split up a truly fine train set, can you?
Oh, yeah, almost forgot - I still have Dad’s BANJO he used to play - and I still have that old PIANO STOOL too!
And hanging on my living room wall, not one, but two, of his old rusty saws, that I painstakingly cleaned and painted with acrylics. The larger, cross-cut hand saw depicts a snowy winter scene, which I tried to duplicate from an old Christmas Card. The smaller, back-cut saw has a warm homey interior scene, based from memory of an old hand-sewn wall display my Mom once made - the words above say:
A CHAIR, A DOG, A BLAZING LOG -
TO WELCOME THEE!
So, my Fellow Pilgrims, as the sun slowly sinks in the West, and we, as humans, approach our ebbing years also, it is both a tribute to our predecessors, and a warm, fuzzy feeling for ourselves to occasionally pause and reflect -
THUS FAR, I’VE HAD A REALLY, REALLY GOOD RIDE - ONE FILLED WITH LOVING MEMORIES!
MY CHRISTMAS GARDEN hopefully may be an inspiration for each of you to just relax one day, or night, and reminisce awhile. I’ll bet that each and every one of you has a HAPPY MEMORY that you could SHARE….
This fast-paced Hurly-Burly WORLD could surely USE IT!
May this Blessed Season bring your heart closer to your loved ones!
JOY - PEACE - ABUNDANCE - LOVE …
Reader Reviews for
"My Christmas Garden - A Re-Post -"
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|Reviewed by S. Tucker
|Tom, my love, this made me both happy and envious. Your childhood was so very happy and your memory for detail is amazing so all the readers can benefit from that loving family of yours. Thanks for opening this door so all of us could share your joy.|
|Reviewed by m j hollingshead
|Reviewed by Mr. Ed
|What marvelous memories, my friend. I truly enjoyed reading this, and although ours was not on such a grand scale as yours, we, too, had a wondrous Lionel Train set and platform and Christmas village.
You've really made me yearn for those 'good old days' with sacred Holiday traditions and huge family get-togethers and so much peace and joy.
And, I'm very glad to hear that you still have that train set. Ours mysteriously disappeared when we moved Mom and Dad out of the old homestead to a newer home, and I've always suspected that one of my siblings sold it, but no one will confess. I miss that old train, especially now, after reading this!
|Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado
|Very well written story, Tom; I concur with twinkie: it sounds like a most lovely place! Enjoyed this one; thanks for the sharing~
(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D
|Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner
|Sounds like a lovely place, Tom, thank you for taking us to your special garden. Well done.
(((HUGS))) and love, Karla.