Climb aboard the crazy train

By Kris Ferrazza | Dec 19, 2019

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I still have a few up my sleeve.

Last month, right around Thanksgiving, my family started to talk about how we would decorate for Christmas. The main agenda items are when to cut the tree, where to set it up, and whether to string lights on the front porch.

This year I tossed out a fourth topic for consideration: “Do you think you will set up your train?”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I regretted it. But then, when I saw the light in my husband’s eyes, I knew what I had to do.

Don’t ask me what it is about guys and trains, but in our house it ranks right up there with girls and ponies. It is a lifelong love affair.

A few years ago, my husband started to reminisce about his childhood train set. He even went so far as to ask his mother whether it was still in the attic of the family homestead back in Bucksport.

Well, it wasn’t. Apparently she had handed it down to the grandkids at some point, and who knows what happened after that.

He shrugged it off and dropped the subject, but I could tell he was disappointed. Visions of tracks and trestles had been dancing in his head. He had hoped to set it up around our Christmas tree and share his love of locomotives with our young daughter.

After his dreams were dashed, I knew I had to track down one of those old train sets. I had a few reasons.

First, he is difficult to shop for during the holidays. He never wants a thing, so he usually ends up with a sad assortment of socks, hats, gloves, sweatshirts, Twizzlers, Raisinets and the old standby: a gift card to the hardware store.

Second, I am always encouraging him to pursue relaxing hobbies and interests, I just knew if I could bring back the childhood magic of that train, it would be a Christmas to remember.

Well, I did it. With his help, and the wonders of eBay, I found a train set in good condition that was just like the one he had in his youth. I even found a Maine potato rail car and unopened boxes of vintage track.

He was thrilled. That first year, he set it up around our tree, much to the delight of our daughter. Our cat got a workout, as he sat amongst the mountains of packages waiting for the engine to emerge from behind the tree. Once it was in sight, he would pounce, attempting to derail the 4:05 right on schedule.

After that Christmas, the train set went into boxes under the bed and there it stayed, at least until last month. When I mentioned it a few weeks back, Tim got a twinkle in his eye. He suggested he might set it up in his unheated workshop, where he has a large bench and plenty or space for conducting and engineering.

“Why don’t you set it up on the kitchen table?” I blurted.

“Here?” he said, wide-eyed at the possibility.

Immediately, I wanted to take it back, but it was too late. I was in too deep.

“Sure,” I said, feeling magnanimous and full of Christmas joy. “Why not?”

Believe me when I say, things escalated quickly after that. He was off to the workshop in a flash. He made a run to the lumberyard and later I heard a space heater running.. Whatever he was up to, it was serious. I tried not to think about it. But it was hard to ignore when he returned to the kitchen and started to clear my beloved kitchen table.

Off went the table runner, three-tiered fruit stand, bananas and oranges. Goodbye, napkin holder, salt and pepper shakers. In their place he put a gigantic slab of plywood, painted white, with hidden compartments under it for his train controls, extra track, railcars and assorted items.

This was getting real.

In the living room, wedged between the piano, the couch and the wall, he set up a small card table and three chairs. This is where we would dine for the next four weeks. I was in shock.

My daughter, gauging my reaction, suggested we put a pretty holiday tablecloth on the rickety folding table. Soon, it looked festive in the way a one-room apartment looks festive during the holidays.

Back in the kitchen, my better half was busily wiring up control boxes and “laying track,” as he puts it. His happiness and excitement were contagious, so Elizabeth and I went out looking for miniatures to lend some ambiance to the railway village he was creating. We found little houses, a candy shop, town hall, church, lighthouse, mercantile and more. Some were rigged with candles inside so they glowed like real buildings. There were benches and lampposts, fences and stone walkways. I even made a frozen pond using aluminum foil.

We laid it all on a blanket of cotton snow, lit the candles and then turned off the overhead lights. When the Midnight Express rounded the corner, whizzing past the pond and the public square, we all felt a little thrill. My daughter was at the controls of a second train, which runs on a raised trestle and heads in the opposite direction. It barely stays on its track as it barrels around and around my kitchen table.

Nightly, we eat together at the card table. We dine like three T-Rexes, trying to keep our elbows in and working hard not to upset the tippy table or get marinara on the white walls. So far, so good.

A major inconvenience I had not considered is that I use my kitchen table for a lot of food prep when cooking and baking. Without any of that available space, I now find myself chopping veggies on the stovetop and resting hot casserole dishes on any surface in sight.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take another minute in my kitchen, Tim came home from work. I was balancing a baking sheet of hot garlic bread atop the refrigerator and biting my tongue when he chuckled.

“Just when you think you know somebody…” he said.

Not in the mood for guessing games, I asked what was on his mind. He said he had been singing my praises at work, telling the guys I had offered up my whole kitchen table for his train set this Christmas.

“You know somebody 28 years, but I never saw that one coming,” he said, shaking his head.

I had to smile. Not only because I can still keep him guessing, but I have given him something money could not buy.

“It’s all yours,” I said. “Until the sun comes up Dec. 26.”

And the beat goes on.

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