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The Suburbanite
  • Gary Brown: The greatest Christmas present ever

  • As anybody who ever has been a child, there is no way to fall right to sleep on Christmas Eve.

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  • In my memory, I am standing at the top of the steps in my childhood home, straining to hear the sounds of Santa.
    He appeared to be pounding. Could he be delivering packages and helping my dad remodel the kitchen on the same night?
    No, in the morning I would notice that the kitchen did not change. But there was an addition to our home that apparently had been constructed entirely on Christmas Eve.
    A Lionel train layout had been set up on its own table, and, with a bright red bow on its transformer, it was waiting for us in a corner of the living room.
    It was large enough that I believed Santa must have brought it in with not-so-tiny reindeer pulling a big rental sleigh.
    This was not a gift for me alone. My brothers were listed on the gift tag, as well.
    BROTHERS' GIFT
    My older brother, David, engineered the Great Get-A-Train-For-Christmas Hinting Project, which was aimed at our mother and father, whom we hoped were in communication with Santa because they nodded and smiled at him whenever they delivered us to him at department store.
    Among other hints, Dave asked for an engineer’s cap for Christmas — for no apparent reason. He laid Lionel ads conspicuously around the house. When we all got into the family station wagon to go to the grocery store, he shouted “All Aboard” just before he slipped onto the back seat.
    Finally, in the most massive and peaceful display of sibling cooperation ever exhibited in our home, he hooked all of us — himself, me, and our younger brother, Brian — together in a human train, and we “chug-chug-chugged” our way around the house, moving our arms like the bars that connect a locomotive’s wheels and even making loud train whistle sounds until Dad told us to pipe down for Pete’s sake.
    All night we worried that perhaps we were too loud, had crossed some sort of line — or, in this case, tracks — that governed the maximum volume to which your voice is allowed to rise while disturbing the peace and joy during the days before Christmas.
    Still, when the three of us went to bed that night we held out hope that the train might still arrive at our station. Neither of our parents had said anything discouraging, such as, “I don’t know, Santa might be planning to bring you something else, like socks. You really need socks.”
    AWAKE AT NIGHT
    As anybody who ever has been a child, and I reason that we all have gone through it at one time or another, knows, there is no way to fall right to sleep on Christmas Eve, as if your name is right up there at the top of Santa’s list of good kids.
    Page 2 of 2 - Oh, we lay in bed, staring at the ceiling for a while, trading conspiratorial comments. “Do you think we’ll get a train?” “Shut up, Gary, they’ll hear us.” “What are you guys talking about?” Because of that last question, I’m not completely sure that my younger brother was old enough at the time to even know we were asking for a train.
    I snuck to the top of the steps long enough to hear Santa’s pounding. Then I went back to bed and counted boxcars until I fell soundly asleep.
    When we went downstairs on Christmas morning, sure enough, our train sat near the tree, a shiny black diesel locomotive attached to a long freight train. And the bow was stuck to the handle of the transformer.
    I’m pretty sure Santa was sorry he gave the train set to us after he heard us arguing all day about who was going to run the thing, but personally I remember it as the greatest Christmas present I ever got.