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Under the Tree

Richard Quinn, 1:46 am ET

EVERY YEAR AROUND this time, I think about one of the most memorable events in my life.

As a child, I was fascinated by trains. My father was a railway tower signal man during the Second World War and later a station master. My first toy trains were plastic and battery operated, not true electric trains. One year, I pleaded for a real set. To my surprise, American Flyer trains were under the tree Christmas morning.

Also under our Christmas tree, for as long as I can remember, was a large green Lionel standard gauge engine. That engine was all that was left of my father’s train set from 1920, when he was age 10. It meant a lot to him—and to me.

One year, several weeks before Christmas, my mother—a woman short on sentimentality and long on frugality—casually mentioned that she’d sold the engine for $100. I was stunned. I never learned how the sale came about or why my father agreed to it, if he indeed did. My parents lived solely on Social Security, but they didn’t need $100 that badly.

I didn’t make an issue of the sale when my mother mentioned it, but my wife knew how upset I was. Unbeknownst to me, she learned who bought the engine and talked the collector into selling it to her for the same $100.

I took the engine to a train shop and, to my surprise, it still worked after sitting idle for more than half a century. I bought a 1920 transformer and some track. I found a collector who sold me five cars of the type that originally went with the engine.

When my parents came to our house Christmas day, the train was running under our tree. My mother looked stunned and asked how I got the engine, but didn’t say anything further. My father just stared as the train ran by and said nothing, but I think I saw a tear or two. Yes, there are many things more important than money—not least our memories and our personal treasures.

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Jim Wasserman
Jim Wasserman
5 months ago

great story!

Don Southworth
Don Southworth
5 months ago

Sounds like you married a gem!

Jeff Bond
Jeff Bond
5 months ago

Wonderful story. Thanks.

Andrew Forsythe
Andrew Forsythe
5 months ago

Great story, Dick. Thanks for sharing it.

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