When 6-year-old Joe got his long-awaited dream toy train for Christmas, he knew little of its true worth and glory. Decades later, at 71, he was stunned when the toy train’s secret came to light.
There was something about little Joe’s storybook. He would hug it to sleep instead of his ragged teddy, hold it close to his heart while eating, and it always had a special place in his school bag. Joe and his storybook were like nail and flesh… utterly inseparable.
But so much love for a 1950s edition his dad Charlie got from the flea market? Well, it was not about the book but about a picture of a toy train illustrated on its cover that attracted the boy! Little Joe had no fancy toys. All he had was an old, tattered teddy his dad had gotten him at the flea market years ago.
Joe lived in a small woodhouse, and his bedroom window offered a clear glimpse of the train that hooted and whistled through the woods nearby. Whenever Joe heard the train rumble, he would run to his bedroom and press his face on the wooden sill, waving wildly at the train. Joe’s fondness for trains bloomed into a craze. He then wanted to own a train, but a miniature replica he could toy with.
For years, he dreamed and visualized the tiny wheels of his little train crushing the dry leaves on the wooden track. “I’ll not share my train with anyone,” he often told himself. He’d been telling this for the last three years, and his dream remained unfulfilled. With time, Joe’s love for the toy train grew more… and more…
On a breezy Sunday evening, as the golden sunrays pierced through the amber and auburn autumn leaves, Joe, 6, ran to his father. He was determined to throw a tantrum for his Christmas present—a new toy train—and was ready to go to any extent to convince his dad to get it for him.
“Daddy, what are you doing?” he asked, stacking a couple of small wooden planks. The smell of fresh sawdust made Joe sneeze as he rubbed his nose.
“Hey, sonny! I’m cutting firewood. Watch your step… don’t step onto the edges.”
Charlie was a woodcutter and sold firewood to the local hotels and houses in the town for a living.
Joe sat on a timber block and started playing with the wooden planks, mimicking the sounds of a hooting train. He was trying to remind his father about his request for a toy train he’d made several months ago.
“Choo! Choo! Choo! Choo!” Joe tried distracting his father.
Charlie rested his axe on his shoulder and looked at his son. He knew what Joe was up to and pretended he didn’t. But Charlie could not stop smiling. And just as he continued to chop the log, Joe interrupted him in a voice sounding as sweet as sugar.
“Joe, my boy, you have no idea what you’ve got!!”
“Daddy, can you make me a toy train… like the one in my storybook… with red and yellow paint… and grey engine… and… and brown tracks??”
Charlie paused. “A toy train? I don’t know how to make one, sonny.”
“I know, daddy. That’s why I asked you to buy me a new toy train… Can you get me one, then??”
Charlie could not say no to his son, but at the same time, he didn’t have enough money to fulfill his wish. Then, he decided to have a word with his wife, Summer. Charlie was ready to move mountains to make little Joe’s dream come true but was he prepared to pay the price for it?
Later that evening…
Summer was tucking firewood into the fireplace. They didn’t have an electric room heater to beat the autumn cold, but their brick hearth was no less than any modern heater.
“Honey, where’s Joe?”
“Where else? He’s waiting for the train to pass… It’s 4 O’clock.”
“Hmmm… It’s Christmas next month. What do we get him? At least this time, we should try not to disappoint him too much…”
Charlie knew Joe wanted a toy train. It was expensive, he knew, but it didn’t matter to him more than his son’s dream. But he was afraid of Summer’s refusal since they were already swimming in debt and barely had enough to make ends meet.
“Don’t tell me you want to get him that expensive toy train he wanted. Honey, we cannot afford it. You know that,” Summer said.
Charlie pressed his lips tight. A sad look of disappointment cloaked his face as he brushed his beard and deeply exhaled.
“Maybe for next Christmas… but how will we tell Joe?” he sighed and went out to work.
Poor Joe was dreaming about his toy train and was not ready for another bland and bitter Christmas.
Christmas was around the corner, and Charlie and Joe decorated the Christmas tree with handmade decorations. Joe was not excited or happy, but it kept him occupied, at least for a while.
But every time the train passed by his house, he frowned. Joe stopped waving at the train. He stopped laughing at the rumbling noise the wheels made. Everything about the train, even the puffs of smoke, reminded him of his unfulfilled dream.
“No toy train this Christmas,” he painfully sighed. He tucked his storybook under his pillow, and before falling asleep, he made a wish.
“Dear Santa, I want a toy train. Mommy and Daddy are not getting me one. I promise I’ll not let anybody play with it. I’ll keep it safe. Can you get me one, Santa?”
Joe cried himself to sleep after making the wish, tears soaking into his pillow on the week before Christmas Eve. His parents overheard him and decided not to disappoint their little boy anymore. On Christmas morning the following week, a surprise awaited Joe.
“Merry Christmas, Joe!!” Charlie and Summer exclaimed when Joe rubbed his sleepy eyes and came running to a faint rumbling sound in their little living room.
“A TOY TRAIN!!!” he jumped in joy and could not hold himself back from running his hands on his much-awaited Christmas present under the tree.
Despite their struggles, Charlie and Summer spent their hard-earned money to get Joe his toy train. Charlie worked hard day and night to fulfill his son’s wish. They knew they had given away a huge chunk of their savings to get a vintage toy, but all that mattered to them was their son’s happiness.
Joe was the happiest boy on that day, the Christmas Eve of 1951. He loved his new toy train to the core. It was the only gift he had. It kept him occupied throughout a childhood that was not as rosy as it was for his friends and neighbors.
Soon, another Christmas arrived, and then another, but Joe did not wish for anything else. Possessing the toy train felt like a lifetime achievement to him. He played with it all day and no longer hugged his storybook.
You will never know the true worth of something until it becomes a precious memory.
Wooden stick figures he’d made and his ragged teddy were the regular passengers on his toy train. He even charged them paper tickets with the inscription “Ticket” scribbled for each ride. Nothing could express how happy Joe was! The speed, the noise, the bright hues, and the glossy wagons made Joe feel he had the greatest toy train of all time.
Years passed. Many Christmases rolled off the calendar. But Joe’s love for the little train he called “Bertie” did not cease. Nor did he grow tired of riding his ragged teddy and stick figures on the rail track around the Christmas tree.
One day, Joe invited all his friends to see his toy train. He was proud and bragged about it, thus sparking their curiosity to see it.
“Don’t touch Bertie, Johnny,” Joe, then 10, fumed at his friend. “Just look from a distance. I don’t like anybody touching my Bertie.”
“Hey, cool, man!! I just wanted to feel it,” said Johnny.
“No, stay away.”
Joe was so possessive and proud of his toy train. Later that evening, he returned home after playing soccer with his friends and saw his esteemed, beloved, treasured first love was gone. Joe’s toy train had disappeared.
“Mommy, I had kept Bertie here,” Joe cried on Summer’s lap. He even doubted Johnny and his friends and confronted them the next day. But nobody confessed the truth. Apparently, nobody knew where it was.
Joe was distraught. The love of his life no longer rumbled in his living room. His ragged teddy and stick figures no longer got a ride to their mini train stations. It was difficult for Joe to move on, but he eventually forgot about his toy train at some point. He forgot about Bertie, his only Christmas present from his parents. The thoughts of the toy train faded from Joe’s memory as he grew older.
Several years passed, and Joe tied the knot with Cindy, his high school sweetheart, at 25. They went on to have as many as seven children, and then the grandchildren came. Joe’s life was in its bliss. He was not poor, unlike his late parents. He made good money, but he wasn’t that wealthy.
His children took over the family cottage cheese business, giving Joe his much-awaited retirement. Then one day, he decided to visit his hometown by train. A super-fast electric locomotive replaced the old steam engine Joe traveled in his youth.
“Haaaa… trains those days… it felt like we were sitting in rocking cradles!” he sighed. The very thought of trains suddenly reminded him of his childhood Christmas present.
Joe had wanted to buy a similar toy train and had toured several toy stores but in vain. Every toy train he saw was updated and modern. Nothing piqued his interest. They were too stylish for his taste and lacked that solid reminder of his childhood memories and the beautiful time he spent with his parents.
Heartbroken, Joe visited his late parents’ house to take a last look before selling it off. He could not travel too often and decided to give the house away for a handsome deal to a friend he knew.
Joe paused in the living room and looked around, hallucinating his childhood self running around, laughing, and screaming. The corner where the Christmas tree once stood was bare and ripped off of its festive glory. The kitchen did not smell of his mom’s apple pie.
Joe grasped his walking stick and checked every inch of the house. The kitchen, living room, and even the bathroom reminded him of the tantrums he threw when he was little.
And finally, he climbed the ladder to the attic. As Joe rummaged through the old items, something under a carton of boxes drew his attention. Joe dispersed the dusty boxes and stood back in shock.
“OH MY GOD!! BERTIE,” he gasped, his eyes raining tears. “How did you get here??”
Joe dropped to his knees and cried for quite some time as he brushed his hands on his old toy train. It was there and had always been there in the attic since time unknown. Joe had no idea how it got there. He could not readily blame anyone, not even Johnny, who he’d prohibited from touching it decades ago.
Joe packed the toy train and took it to his home in the city to show his friend, Andrews, an antique collector and dealer.
… From where did you get it?” asked Andrews as he ran his hands through the fine, pristine metallic wagons that sat still on the dusty railroad.
“My parents got it for Christmas when I was six.”
“Joe, my boy, you have no idea what you’ve got!!”
“I don’t understand,” Joe exclaimed, staring through Andrews’s eyes.
“Damn. This thing is very rare. And it costs quite a fortune now. I know a few antique collectors looking for such an exquisite piece.”
“Pack it and keep it ready. I know a buyer,” added Andrews as Joe frowned, although his eyes beamed with delight.
“No, I don’t want to sell the train,” he said after a momentous thought.
“Are you outta your mind, Joe? You’ll become rich. It’ll rain money in your house. Just shut up and accept the deal.”
“I cannot do it… This toy train is my dear memory of my late parents. My childhood is attached to it… AND NO AMOUNT OF MONEY CAN BUY THOSE MEMORIES.”
Joe was happy with his decision, and on his 71st birthday, he decided the fate of his treasured toy train.
On the evening of his birthday celebrations, Joe bequeathed his toy train to Joshua, his oldest grandson, who was an art fanatic.
Joshua was an aspiring businessman who loved collecting antique items. He even had a hall in his house dedicated to exhibiting several pieces of classic items he’d collected from around the world. Before passing his treasured toy train to Joshua, Joe had just heartfelt one condition.
“Promise me you’ll not sell it. This toy train carries my childhood memories in each of its wagons. It’s more precious than you think.”
“I promise, grandpa. I won’t sell this toy train, and it’ll be passed on to generations in honor of your memory and love for it.”
Joe happily bequeathed his beloved toy train to his grandson. He was pleased his esteemed toy train was now in safe hands and would never get lost again.
You will never know the true worth of something until it becomes a precious memory. Joe moved on after losing his esteemed toy train. At 71, he accidentally found it and realized it was an embodiment of his childhood memories and refused to sell it away. Later, he gave it to his grandson only after he was assured that it would be safe and preserved for generations to come.
You can buy fancy things with money, but you cannot buy true love and memories. When Andrews persuaded him to sell the vintage toy train for a handsome deal, Joe refused, saying it was his dear memory of his childhood and late parents.
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