‘Excited,’ that was the word, as in Forrest Harrison was extremely excited because there was a very big box with his name on it under the tree. ‘Unable,’ was another word that explained how Forrest felt, as in unable to hold his toes to the floor because he was positive there was a train set in that box.
It was the only thing Forrest wanted for Christmas. His sister, Kayla, had a list that would take Santa at least a half-hour to read. And his little brother, Tyler, could hardly talk, but that didn’t stop him from wanting everything he saw.
Forrest just wanted a train. That’s what he told his mom, his dad, his uncle Tony, and Santa Claus. In fact that’s what he told every Santa Claus he saw, and there were three of them. Forrest knew that maybe none of them was the real Santa Claus, but there was no reason to be careful about it. Forrest knew it didn’t matter if he told the real Santa or not because the real Santa was probably paying attention and knew how much Forrest wanted a train set.
Early that morning, probably not long after Santa stopped at their house, Forrest, Kayla, and even Tyler were out of bed sitting in front of the tree. The rules were strict.
“No Tyler, no touching, just looking.”
Holding a package that looked like it held a small toy, Kayla asked, “Can I shake this little one?”
“You know what dad said. Touch is the tags, to read the names, that’s all.”
“What good is that, I can’t read.”
“I can read them, if you want.”
So Tyler read all the names on all the tags, some of them two or three times, until dad and mom finally came out of their room. Dad went straight to the shower, didn’t even say, Merry Christmas. Mom came into the living room.
“Well, look at you,” she said. “All ready for Christmas and so quiet. Is Santa in the room right now? Adults can’t see him, you know.”
“I don’t think he is,” Kayla said.
“And I see that not even one present has been opened. How did you ever keep Tyler away?”
“We just said, ‘No, Tyler, and he didn’t,” Forrest said.
“Well, maybe he touched just a little,” said Kayla.
“No presents right now,” Mom said. “Who wants to help me make breakfast?”
Forrest knew she wasn’t really asking if they wanted to help, it was her way of saying; I want all of you in the kitchen. That was fine with Forrest. It was better than sitting in the living room just staring at the presents and reading gift tags.
Kayla and Tyler weren’t old enough to remember that mom fixed Christmas tree and snowman shaped pancakes for breakfast every Christmas. They would also have hot chocolate and bacon. For some reason dad insisted that it wouldn’t be Christmas without bacon. Even though Forrest had never heard any stories about Christmas bacon, he thought it was okay because he liked bacon.
Before she finished her snowman pancake Kayla asked, “Can we open presents now?”
Forrest already knew the answer to that one, not until everyone was finished eating and all the dishes were in the dishwasher.
After waiting for what seemed like all day for dad to finish eating and another day to get the kitchen all cleaned up, Forrest knew it was finally time. Then the phone rang. He imagined it was the sound a train horn, Woo, whoo. And when his dad answered the phone he wanted to hear the conductor saying, “All aboard, next stop, the Christmas tree.”
That’s not what Dad was saying though. “Hi Debbie, Merry Christmas.”
Forrest ushered Tyler away from the Christmas tree and back into the kitchen because he knew it was going to be a while before they touched any presents. Aunt Debbie and Uncle Michael called every year.
“Daddy, please tell Aunt Debbie we’re going to open presents,” Kayla begged, hoping dad would say good-bye, or I’ll call you later.
When he kept talking, Forrest imagined the conductor on his train was saying, “Sorry folks, we have a little delay because of a gabby aunt and uncle. We should be moving again, very soon.”
It wasn’t very soon, though. Of course Uncle Ted had to talk and of course Mom had to talk to both of them and of course they wanted to talk to each of us.
“What did you get for Christmas?” Uncle Ted asked. “We haven’t opened presents yet.”
“Of course, of course, not till after breakfast.”
“We finished breakfast, then you called.”
He didn’t get the hint. Instead he asked Forrest what he was hoping Santa brought. Then Uncle Ted started asking stupid questions, like if Forrest was playing baseball yet or if he was learning how to drive. When he was finished, Aunt Debbie started all over again. She asked some stupid questions, too, like if Forrest had a girlfriend.
“Be careful, young man, you’re gonna be quite a catch, the girls are going to be chasing after you.”
When she was finished she wanted to talk to Kayla. They even wanted to talk to Tyler. Forrest thought they were just trying to torture him and waste time. They probably already knew he was getting a train and wanted to make him wait as long as possible.
Finally Forrest heard his mom saying, “Bye Debbie, I better go. I have three very restless children waiting as patiently as they can to see what Santa brought them.”
Forrest always thought opening presents was both the best and worst part of Christmas. That was because the presents were opened one at a time, but not until Dad pulled it out from under the tree. Then it would be opened and held up so mom could take a picture.
“Dad, that big box is for me,” Forrest would say every time it was his turn to open a package or, “Dad, please give me the big box next.”
Dad didn’t, though. The big box was left till last. His dad gave him a shirt, then a new school lunch box, then a Mr. Potato head, then a small car. Finally when Forrest opened the box he’d been watching all morning, he couldn’t stop smiling. It was an electric train set. It was the best Christmas, ever.
Inside the box were an engine, a passenger car, two freight cars, and a caboose. There were also about 20 pieces of track, some railroad crossing signs, a transformer and an on-off switch. He slowly and carefully admired each piece, but before he started setting it up all the ribbons and wrapping paper had to be cleaned up and taken out to the trash.
When he came back from that chore his dad was setting up the train set, “Let me help you with this, Forrest. We want to put it in a place that won’t be too much in the way.”
Forrest didn’t like the way his dad said, “We.” Whenever his dad said, “We,” it usually meant “I’ll do it and you watch or help.” That’s what Forrest did, he watched. His dad spent the rest of the afternoon working on different layouts for the 25 or so pieces of track. Then it was time for dinner. After dinner his dad said, “Come on Forrest; let’s finish setting up your train set.”
Christmas night, when Forrest went to bed he hadn’t played with is electric train at all. He got to touch some of the track. He got to pick out the spot for the railroad crossing. He got to hand dad the passenger car. He got to watch as the train went around the track at different speeds, stopping in different places, backing up and so on, but that was all.
The next morning Forrest got up early to play with his train, but he couldn’t find it. It wasn’t under the tree. It wasn’t anywhere in the house.
“Mom, do you know where my electric train is?” he asked while she was still coming down the stairs.
“Your Father has it. I think he broke it or something. He took it out to the garage last night.”
“Can I get it?”
“Afraid not,” his dad said. His dad was at the top of the stairs. There were some problems. I’ll see if I can fix them today.
Tears started streaking down Forrest’s face. “You’re always breaking my stuff,” he screamed at his dad. “You never let me play with anything.” And he ran into his room. It was the worst Christmas, ever.
“Son, son,” his dad called out as Forrest ran down the hall, “It’s just a small problem; I’ll have it fixed by the end of the day.”
But Forrest wasn’t listening. He spent the entire day in his room, refusing to come out for any reason, even breakfast and lunch. At lunch time his mother brought a sandwich and a glass of milk in to him.
“Forrest, honey, I know how you feel, but you’re father found there was a problem with your train. He’s gone into town to get whatever he needs to fix it.”
“What’s that,” Forrest said as he started crying again.
“I don’t know exactly honey, but he said it will make the train much better.”
“Sure, better for him. I just want to play with it.”
“And you will. You know your father wants you to have the best train set ever.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet.”
“Want a brownie?”
Late that afternoon, just before dinner, his dad knocked on Forrest’s bedroom door.
“Go away,” Forrest said, “Go play with your train.”
“It’s your train. I won’t be touching it again unless you need some help with it.”
“Sure, I’ll bet you’re going to show me what help I need.”
“No, I’m not. I want to show you what I did. Please come down to the basement with me.”
“Where’s the train?” Forrest asked.
“It’s in the basement.”
Forrest followed his father down the stairs. In one corner of the family room was a big piece of wood with a hole in the middle.
“This is for your trains,” his dad said. “Let me show you how it works.”
“Wow,” Forrest said, already realizing what it was.
“You can work on it out here or you can crawl underneath to work on it from the inside. I’ve put your electric train and all the track pieces in that cabinet. If you want to get more pieces, there’s plenty of room.”
“Can I start now, dad”
“You can, but you won’t get much done. Your mother almost has dinner ready.”
“What did you break?”
“I didn’t like the engine, so I got you another one and while I was in town I picked up this wood and some other stuff. So, have fun. You can play here tonight, of course.”
When Forrest opened the cabinet door the first thing he saw was two engines, the one his dad was playing with and another one. There were also more cars and three boxes filled with track pieces. Forrest saw a bridge and a mountain with a tunnel in it.
“Wow, I have the best dad in the world,” he said as he started pulling out track pieces.