The Last Train to Clarksville

December 29, 2004

Driving in to work today, I was greeted with a story about an american icon for any ‘kid’ over the age of thirty (and for many kids under 10 as well.) Amongst all the stories about the tsunami that has rocked Asia was a different sort of sad story. Lionel Trains has filed for bancruptcy.

As a kid, I have some very strong, fond memories of trains. Up until I was about twelve I was fascinated by them and not just around Christmas time either. I had a train stocking for Christmas and numerous ornaments for the tree that were train-oriented but I was also an avid model train collector. My father and I had converted a section of our basement into a diorama for the trains we owned. I remember sitting for hours painting tiny buildings and working with plaster to create just the right look for the mountain range. Selecting the correct hues of dye to get the water color of the river underneath our tressel just so. Creating and painting trees. Laying the track and arguing over whether O gauge (my Dad’s gauge of choice) was better than HO (my favorite.)

My grandfather had even retired as vice-president of one of the largest train company’s in America.

Yes, trains were in my blood and I loved them.

But, like ever kid, at some point you come to ‘outgrow’ the things that defined your childhood. I often wonder if this moment, this move into adulthood, should be something that is discouraged rather than encouraged. If these joys of our childhood shouldn’t continue to be nurtured by our society and commended. What would the world be like if we all held onto our childhood fantasies as we also take on the responsiblities of adulthood.

I don’t mean this trivially. As I approach what many consider the age of the mid-life crisis (and I know this will only encourage Mindc…er the artist formerly known as Mindcrime, but he’s a juvenile delinquent and doesn’t need an excuse to pander) I wonder why this phenomena occurs. Could it be that becuase we leave our childhood fancies behind, we close off a part of ourselves that can only be quiet for just so long, say about 25 years. And then it comes back with a vengeance that no one seems to understand? Perhaps this crisis is the imagination of that ten year old, excited at the wonders of his model train and the possiblities that it creates, striving to once more be recognized and embraced.

Fitness and triathlon seem to have replaced my ‘model trains’ now that I’m approaching forty. Some might say it’s my mid-life crisis. If suddenly discovering a love of life and an enthsuiasm for every single day is what a mid-life crisis is, then I’m all for it.

Lionel trains sparked my imagination as a kid. Today, my imagination is sparked by other things but I never forget that one of the foundations of my imaginative childhood was the site of a small locomotive engine headlight cutting through the dark of a tunnel that my hands had crafted.