Just before Christmas 2013, my husband surprised me with a large, gift-wrapped box. I wasn’t sure how to react. We weren’t supposed to be buying each other gifts, and I’d stuck to my side of the bargain. He picked up on “the look” right away--I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings—and he assured me that he hadn’t bought me anything, he was re-gifting.
Confused, and with considerable trepidation, I unwrapped the large box and pried it open. Beneath the packing paper were several cumbersome, bubble-wrapped objects. My confusion deepened. I pulled two of the oddly shaped bundles out of the box and ran my hands over them. I looked at David in disbelief. I could feel the unmistakable contours of a train engine and cars through the protective wrapping. Tears of joy started to flow. How had he tracked down my son’s long-lost, handmade, wooden train? It had been gone for fifteen years.
December 1982. I was a single mom and, without overstating, financially strapped. Nonetheless, I was on a mission to find that special gift from Santa for my almost, three-year-old son.
Wandering Tucson’s Fourth Avenue Street Fair, a booth filled with old-fashioned, handmade, wooden toys stopped me in my tracks. The artisans, John West & Sons, were true craftsmen, eager to show off the workmanship of each toy. These were non-mechanical toys, ready to be animated by a child’s imagination. The vendor pointed out solid maple biplanes with propellers that spun, firetrucks with ladders, and helicopters expertly doweled, but a delightful, four-car train won my heart. I ran the train along its shelf. It was perfect.
This gift had great significant to me. It had substance. It was handmade, not plastic, breakable, or fake. It was ‘real’ and would last. Somehow it represented stability. I held my breath and flipped the price tag over. I could do it. It would take every cent in my shopping budget, but that train would be under the tree, waiting for my son on Christmas morning.
That Christmas train claimed prominent shelf space in our home for sixteen years, until one day in 1998 when I noticed it was missing. Light bulb moment. My son’s stepfather had recently moved to Florida to remarry. The train must have made the cross country trip with him. I was crushed. That train set meant more to me than my ex, or even my then teenage son, would ever understand.
Fifteen years later (2013), during a phone conversation with my son’s stepfather, I asked whether he still had the train set. He’d been divorced for a few years. When he moved out of the house in Florida, he left most of his belongings behind. He had no idea where the wooden train might be. His guess was in a box, buried in the depths Liz’s (ex-wife), storage shed; they were not on friendly terms. My quest was hopeless.
My husband, David, saw my disappointment. He is a very resourceful man. Somehow he tracked Liz down, telephoned her, explained the situation, and while they were still on the phone, she found the train stashed in a box in her closet. She would be happy to ship it to me. She understood. And that’s how I ended up receiving the best, re-gifted Christmas gift ever.
Today the wooden engine and four cars are displayed in my living room, next to a framed picture of my son with the train, Christmas 1983. It will forever bring me joy, and I will forever be grateful for its return.