by Roy Erickson Jr.
About the Author: This is a story that I told groups of addicts when I was a counselor. They named the piece and years later they still approach me and say that every time they see a train, they think of me.
Lost in time is how he felt in the war, and how it was for him when he returned from the war, it’s just known that he landed a good job and in his loneliness he found a friend in alcohol. It was a friendship made in hell for as time went on, he was on the verge of loosing his job if he did not stop… so he did stop.
He always had a deep respect for those who just stop “cold turkey.” It is painful and confusing, and more so if you are alone. But he did it for 8 or 9 months. However, as Christmas approached, he seemed to have difficulty remembering why he stopped, and, as with most people, he knew that he would drink again. He was an orphan who had no knowledge of his family, if there was one. There was no one to stay sober for, and the pain was too great to stay sober for his own self.
He sat there as Friday night encompassed him, it was a drizzly, drab, night, just after Thanksgiving. Being an orphan with no family, he had spent it alone, wondering what he should be thankful for. Nothing, he decided and went to renew an old acquaintance with booze. As he was crossing the street, barely lit with nominal street lamps and glistening with the recent rain, he was half way across the street to the package store when he stopped. He had stopped dead in the middle of the street, why he did not know. He then turned around and looked into the window of a toy store…. Now, even today there are no graphics or programs that can match the magic of a well done toy store, and this was well done. With the framing and white fluff showing off the toys, it leapt into your eyes with grappling hooks and held your attention, and so it was for him.
He stood there, finally focusing on the train set in the center of the window. He was enrapt by it, as many have been. He thought back to the orphanage and the procession of paltry presents awarded him over the years and was reminded that the one thing that he had always wanted was a train set.
He stood there for a while, gazing into the window. He finally decided that it was a child’s toy and turned to walk into the package store. Just as he reached the door, the thought, “Dammit, for once in my life I will have something that I want!”
He turned and walked back into the toy store and bought the train. As he left the store, he realized that he no longer had enough money for the booze, so he went home and set up the train set and watched it go around and around until he fell asleep in the chair.
Now, because he had not drunk, he went to work the next day. He was in a better mood, and so was the boss. He went home and thought about buying another train, which he did on the next paycheck. And the next paycheck, and the next paycheck, and the next…. until you could barely cross the room without crushing track. Thinking that this was somewhat too confining and a bit foolish, he conceived a plan to make it more orderly. He went out and bought braces and panels of glass. He set up a platform that encircled his apartment at the ceiling, about a foot or so down from the top. After he had set the platform, he began to put on trains, some side by side and in other arrangements. He put on cities and suburbs and country scenes in his journey around the apartment. As` time passed he would change the seasons and all was well with the world… well, not quite.
The whole toy train thing was losing his interest. He needed something else, but what? He decided that he had always wanted real New England clam chowder, so he went to the bank and pulled out some money to buy a ticket to Boston, since a holiday weekend was coming up.
The trains of that day were pleasant, with sleeping, dinning and observation cars. He took advantage of all of those cars. Watching the scenery pass through the glass of the observation area, high atop the car. The sway and sounds of the train filled his ears and senses and he felt at peace.
He decided on the trip that he knew little about trains, so when he got home he researched train museums and conventions. He began to plan to attend various things that interested him and began to attend them.
At one of the conventions and train trips he met a very nice young lady. She was also an orphan and had been raised in a convent. They talked and agreed to meet again at a future event. As time went on they decide to marry. With both of them being orphans they had a very short guest list and decided to have a simple ceremony and put most of their money into the honeymoon.
The honeymoon was in Europe, with the centerpiece being the Orient Express, at the time, the most opulent, romantic and mysterious train on Earth. They traveled through all of western Asia and southern Europe on the way to gay Par-ee. It was an amazing experience.
As the years passed they went back to Europe to ride various trains, including the then new “Bullet train.” The experiences were wonderful and they were very happy. They then focused on Asia, going to Japan, Australia and India, participating in the train events there.
On one of the trips to India, he rode around the full coast line, through the towns and countryside. He saw the beauty and the squalor of the sub-continent and wondered what he could do about it.
His research found a church group that was providing people in the lower castes in India, money to by land and supplies to build humble abodes, and maybe a goat. The cost was reasonable, about $125 in those days. Over the course of the next few years, he was able to secure the money for over a thousand households with whole families within them.
He died a few years ago, his wife had died a few years before. He will never want to drink again, but come to think of it, several thousand people living better off than they would have and to have hundreds of friends who honor him is not a bad legacy for a man who on one night wanted something more than that next drink.
Not a bad legacy at all.