The Christmas Train

This last week we have been dragging all of the Christmas decorations out of the attic and putting them out for the holiday season.  I absolutely love decorating for Christmas.  I have fond memories of my father, who enjoyed decorating so much that he gave our tree themes.  One year, it was all blue and silver, another year red, green and gold.  It was always different and tastefully done.  In true Clark Griswold style, he also loved trimming the outside of the house with lights on every gutter and shrub.  He even made a gigantic NOEL sign out of plywood with the “O” as a musical note.  He hand painted it, outlined the perimeter with flashing lights and backlit it with giant multi colored bulbs; a signature piece.  The other hobby my dad excelled at was model railroading. He had an “N” gauge layout that was about 25’x15’ and took over the majority of our basement.

Something about Christmas always makes me think of my dad, so each year I pull out the cheap plastic Christmas train set from WalMart that my sister in law bought over 15 years ago and set it up.  It no longer works so it’s just “for show”.  I purposely place it on a transect support beam that sits about 8 feet up from the ground.  Setting it up this way was a requirement when I inherited this train.  My kids were so little they simply couldn’t leave the thing alone.  Just having it at ground level was an invitation to push it along the track, sideways, and break off every single wheel, which is exactly why this train no longer works.  Everyone still gets a nice view of the Christmas train scene as you go up and down the stairs to the second floor…..and no one can see the broken wheels.

Now that my boys are teenagers, I still set it up in the stratosphere.  This year I decided to splurge an extravagant sum of $19.95 on a few cheap and exceptionally fragile ceramic houses and village scenes from Home Depot.  The younger boys love setting this train up for two main reasons:

  1.  They get to use a ladder.
  2. There is an entire epic “Chirstmas Runaway Train” storyline complete with bodies laying on the track and dogs peeing on Christmas trees.


Here’s how it goes.  My oldest two are way too cool for the train so just the youngest three are helping with the set up. There are a bunch of arguments between sons #3, 4 & 5 as to who gets to go up the ladder with a couple pieces of track first.  Finally when I have had enough of the bitching and moaning I determine an order of assent.  Son #4 climbs the ladder and Son #3 acts as a counter weight on the opposite side of the ladder.  But wait……somehow even though we are nowhere near an active fault line, there is an earthquake and the ladder must be shaken violently to freak out the younger brother.  Then it’s #5s turn.  He climbs the ladder with his selected pieces of track.  Then another argument ensues about which pieces of the track are the “right” ones.  It appears that a he is just “doing it all wrong” and the train will now look stupid.  Eventually the track is laid intelligently, the major earthquake subsides and we are only left with mild tremors while climbing the ladder.

Next to go up are the cars.  #3 really wants the caboose and #5 really wants to place the engine which leaves #4 with the middle two cars.  I am actually pleasantly surprised at how they worked this out among the 3 of them.  Maybe all the love and harmony of a family Christmas isn’t just the stuff of legend!  But, alas, the temporary peace on earth comes to a halt because now it is time for the houses and figurines.

All three boys are trying to shove as many pieces into their hands as they can possibly manage.  Despite my warning about the fragility of the made-in-China-dollar-store-wanna-be miniature people and the need to use their hands for more practical things like holding onto the sides of the ladder, they still attempt to climb the ladder with handfuls of mid century carolers while holding onto the sides with their wrists.  A couple of pieces hit the floor and we now have a headless dog being walked by a boy with an amputated hand.

This is just fine as it adds to the fact that this has now become a Christmas zombie apocalyptic scene where headless dogs urinate on flocked trees.  Each and every human figurine takes it’s turn during the placement process getting a voiceover by one of the boys.  This includes crying and screaming for help as unwilling characters are being laid down on the track to suffer the imminent doom of getting run over by the oblivious conductor of the holiday train.  This train is, in fact, going the speed of a silver bullet destined for the heart of a zombie terrorizing the bell ringing Santa, despite his painted on jolly appearance.

When all is said and done, the train is up, no one has fallen off the ladder and only two small pieces have been broken, but are still usable.  To the untrained eye, viewers will pass the Christmas train scene and see a lovely centerpiece commemorating my childhood memories.

Little do they know it’s actually a story line that includes the soon to be demise of that lady at the end of the track with her back to an oncoming train.  Next up…..the Christmas tree.  Lord help me.