All Aboard!
July 15th, 2011

When I was a little girl my grandparents lived in a town about an hour away from us.  Occasionally, when my parents were out of town, my sister and I would go stay with Grandmother and Granddaddy.  My memories of those visits are filled with happiness: building towers out of Grandmother’s canned goods, learning to sew buttons onto scrap pieces of fabric stretched over embroidery hoops, meeting Granddaddy at the top of the hill as he walked home from work, feeding the Canada geese that lived at the hospital pond behind my grandparents’ house, and getting dressed up for dinner out at the Chinese restaurant across the street.

But one of my favorite memories is from lunches at home with Grandmother and Granddaddy.  We ate in the train room.

Once upon a time the train room was the shared bedroom of my dad and my uncle.  I was told that in past years the walls were covered in team penants and sundry high school memorabilia.  By the time grandkids came around it had been converted into a sitting room, of sorts, with a drop leaf table next to the window.  This repurposed room became known as the train room because we so often ate lunch there at that table in the window, pretending that we were in the dining car of a passenger coach, on our way to someplace exciting.

Looking back (and through the eyes of a parent, now) I suspect that the train room was invented to make a simple lunch at home something exciting, glamorous even, and something to be eagerly anticipated.  Interestingly, this doesn’t take away any of the magic.  As I think back on our lunches in the train room I feel just as excited (mixed with some nostalgia) as I did back then.  Grandmother and Granddaddy wanted our visits to be fun and adventuresome.  And for two imaginative little girls, the premise of a railroad journey was a repeat hit.

I’ve been thinking back on the train room lately because IEP is a boy obsessed with trains.  He takes Thomas and Percy and Molly on our morning walks, down for naps, and up and down the stairs ad nauseum to ensure that they’re never far away.  And beginning this week he has started identifying any paved path (usually a sidewalk) as train tracks.

We walk two miles every morning (big dogs + small yard = lots of walking) and nearly none of our neighborhood streets has sidewalks.  But for the single stretch of our route that does have sidewalks IEP instructs me daily, “Mommy, ride on the train tracks!”  And each morning as I veer onto the sidewalk he shouts, “All aboard!!  Choo choo!”  And every time he says it I am taken back to the train room – to macaroni and cheese served in big mugs; to canned fruit on a bed of lettuce topped with a dollop of Miracle Whip and a sprinkling of cinnamon; to brown stained pedastal glasses that were filled with iced tea for Grandmother and Granddaddy and with milk for Anne and me; and to that big picture window of our dining car where we imagined that we were headed to new and exciting places.

Grandmother passed away a few years ago, and in one of my last visits with her she took a long and meandering trip back in her memory to the stacking of canned goods, the sewing of buttons, and lunches in the train room.  I can see now how much those times meant to her – that even as her mind faded these were the memories she still saw clearly.

Granddaddy is still here - 91 now, and sharp as a tack.  I try to visit him whenever I’m home, and when I do we talk about work, travel, current events, and IEP’s latest conquests.  We haven’t talked about the train room in a very long time.  But I know his memory of it is every bit as bright as my own.  There are just some things that we don’t forget.  And sometimes, when very little boys get excited about pretending that sidewalks are train tracks, we are flooded by our own memories of imagined dining cars and cross-country adventures.

3 Responses to “All Aboard!”

  1. anne Says:

    Nothing like getting all choked up on a Friday morning. It’s so amazing to think how long ago that was, and how you have a child of your own…with his own amazing imagination. Thanks for taking me back there this morning…maybe I’ll eat my lunch out of that mug today:)

  2. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    The train room sounds delightful. And omigosh, Miracle Whip on fruit! My dad does this! Is it a generational thing, I wonder? I haven’t thought of that in years.

  3. Cathy Says:

    A very beautiful post Gale. We have a train room too – it’s our formal living room. It has no furniture except the train table and it is littered with three different types of Thomas sets (wooden, plastic and the Lionel versions) as well as GeoTrax. This post reminds me that these train days are essentially over. My little guy is now 7 and while he might stop for a little while, the days of hours of entertainment are now behind us. I will never get rid of the trains though. I’ll just save them for my grandkids and maybe they will end up with fond memories of their own ‘train room’.