A true story about strange miracles. This is from my new book which is in the process of being edited. The title is: The Journey; a story for those who blew it or are about to.
My best Christmas ever was when I was six. My dad told me that he heard that Santa was going to bring me something special that year. Naturally I asked what it was, but of course he didn't know, just that I would really like it. During the days and weeks before Christmas, I kept asking if he had heard yet what I was going to get. "Not yet," he said, "just that you’ll be really surprised, and it's something you'll never expect."
Then one day he told me that he discovered what the surprise was, but he had promised not to tell. That made me even more anxious to find out. I would make wild guesses. I would beg, "Please tell me." I would try to trick him. It was great fun trying to trip him up. It made the anticipation bearable.
Finally, Christmas Eve arrived. My par-ents hustled me to bed early, but I didn't get much sleep. Every noise, every sound, made me wonder if it was Santa. The longest night finally ended. Christmas morning came.
We had a rule about Christmas morning; we all had to wait at the top of the stairs until everyone was ready to go down together. This Christmas was no exception. Why did Dad and Mom have to wash up? Brushing their teeth seemed to take so long. Finally, the big moment came.
I rushed downstairs. My eyes opened wide with astonishment and wonder. A Lionel train was running around the tree. There was a village with lit houses. Crossing lights and signals flashed as the train ran over switches. The engine whistled and smoked.
They only allowed me to put up the train at Christmas, and every Christmas that train ran around the tree. After my father died when I was eleven, the train had even more meaning to me. Through my high school and college years that train made its yearly run, even after I married.
One Christmas, when it was clear to me that my marriage was breaking up and the air was thick with the tension between my former wife and myself, the engine froze. The wheels simply refused to turn. I tried everything to fix it. I even took the engine apart, but it was no use. The wheels were locked as solid as if they were soldered.
That was the last year I put up the train. I never got around to get-ting the engine fixed. “Someday,” I told myself, “maybe…”
Several years passed. Then one Thanksgiving several years ago, a letter arrived from a mutual fund that my former wife and I had owned. The company had tried to locate us. By a strange fluke, I received the letter even though it was addressed to our old home. There were some stock distributions that had lain dormant in both our names. When I called the company, I was told that we both would have to decide how we wanted the funds divided.
I hadn't heard from or seen my ex-wife since we divorced. I didn't even know where she was living. The thought of contacting her filled me with anxiety. Old feel-ings of vulnera-bility, failure, anger, and pain returned. It was as if all that time hadn't passed. The last thing I wanted was to con-tact her or my former in-laws, who had always made it clear I was not good enough for their daughter.
I talked with a close friend and attorney. After discussing various options, he suggested I write a letter to her in care of my previous in-laws. Perhaps they would for-ward it, and we could reach an agreement.
I thought about it for several days. Finally, I decided to make writing that letter work for me. I started by telling her that we had some unfinished business from our former relation-ship. I explained about the mutual funds and what I was request-ing re-garding their distribution. I continued by talking about the good things that were hap-pening in my life. I told of my trips to Europe and the Soviet Union, my great job, the book I was writ-ing, and my good relationship with a special woman.
As I wrote, I could feel the old feel-ings of failure and vulnerability fading. The growth I had experienced over the last several years expressed itself in that let-ter, not in an obvious way, but rather in a subtle and unmistakable manner. It was as if a circle were being completed.
That following weekend, I was Christmas shopping and hap-pened to drive past the Train Exchange shop in Manchester. On an impulse, I stopped and asked if they fixed old trains. The owner told me that I should bring the engine in and they would look at it, but wouldn't promise anything. I rushed home and pulled the engine out of the attic.
When I took it to the shop, I explained that the wheels were frozen and how I had tried everything I could to fix them. To prove my point, I tried turning the wheels. I couldn’t believe it. To my astonishment, the wheels spun freely in my hand. The person behind the counter looked at the engine and said that, at the very least, it needed a good cleaning.
He handed me a statement that began, "Fixing old trains is an act of love.…” The statement continued saying that one should balance sentimentality with practical considerations and decide if the train was worth fixing. One also shouldn't expect the train back for a long time as parts may not be readily avail-able, and they might have to scour the country for them. I told him to do whatever he had to do to fix the train.
I didn't expect the engine back for several weeks, certainly not until after Christmas. However, I got a call a week later saying that the train was running. It would only cost about forty dollars.
A week before Christmas, my girlfriend and I decorated her tree. I spent the evening cleaning and sanding old track. I laid the track around the tree and hooked up the old transformer. Now the test; would the train run? I placed the engine and tender on the track and applied power. The engine started moving around the track, slowly at first, but as the gears loosened up, it ran faster. I attached one car at a time, first the gondola car, then a boxcar, the refrigerator milk car, and finally the caboose. The train was running for the first time in many years.
I sometimes think that the special things we own are metaphors for the events in our lives. For some, it might be a family album; for others, a great-grandparent's china set. For me, it was the train.
The train was a symbol of my father's love for me. The Christmas during which he got it was an economically hard time for my family. My mother used to say that she couldn't understand why he spent the money for the train that year. Afterward she said she was glad he had, because four years later he died of a sudden heart attack. dad had four years of seeing me enjoy that train.
The same week, I got a reply from my former wife. She had remarried and was living in Arizona. She agreed to my request regarding the disbursement of the mutual funds. The letter was cordial and informative. Clearly, the paths we both took in our lives were incompati-ble. Somehow, it's good to know that.