Here it is in all it's glory--my extremely nerdy side: My HO Scale model train set, spewed upon my coffee table and couch as I try to decide what to sell on eBay and what to keep. I carefully brought each piece slowly out of its respective box, and I amaze myself with how organized I use to be before I started... "living" with someone... "Electric lights" one is labeled. "Power lines and telephone poles"; "Cars and trucks"; "Cabooses and cattle cars"; "Box cars and tanker cars"; "Shed". Dozens of boxes, large and small.
My heart tugs as I bring out some of the houses: The white farmhouse with the green roof, complete with chicken shed and small garage in matching colors. I'm not sure if this one was my father's of my grandfather's, but it's always been one of my favorites. The "76" gas station which I know was my fathers. One car still sits in the second bay, waiting for the mechanic who never came back from lunch break. The old white church which I then glued half of a split-level house to the side--I suppose I imagined the pastor of this flock needed a "parsonage." I had also taken white paper and water-colored it, then glued it to the insides to make a "stained glass" effect. The tape holding the paper in place was peeling off now, but the water-colors seemed brighter than ever. Ah, yes, then the old brick church--I had imagined that this was the Catholic church in town. I hadn't known any Catholics at that time in my life (not that I knew of, anyway), but from what I had seen on television and the movies, they had the nicer churches, so therefore this nicer-looking brick church had to be theirs... (Ah, the mind of a ten-year-old...)
Two water towers, both green with blue roofs: one had been my father's and one had been my grandfathers, and while one was slightly taller than the other, my small brain had always been amazed that my father and my mother's father had managed to own the same piece for their respective collections from across an entire state (after all, I had no concept of "mass production"...)
Then there was the first engine I had ever bought myself with my allowance money: A shiny silver-and-red Sante Fe engine with matching caboose. Then the toned-down blue-gray-and-black Baltimore and Ohio engine, also with matching caboose.
I lifted building after car after track after building and placed them around the living room. Some of the buildings crumbled apart in my hands, the glue so old and dried out it was only the dust holding it together. I inspected my horrible ten-year-old painting techniques as compared to the buildings I knew my father and grandfather had put together... I hadn't even remotely been a Picasso. But I had loved it, and tears were springing from my eyes as I gingerly placed each one carefully to the side.
My grandfather died many years ago, about a year before I had even graduated high school, just barely in his sixties. He was undergoing his third or fourth hip-replacement surgery and his heart just stopped. He held on for another year and a half, in a semi-comatose state.
I held the watch tower from his collection and remembered that day in the home: My grandmother, my mother, my aunt Mary and myself. I have no idea where my other four siblings were, or why I had been brought along on the day when they were pretty sure he was finally going to die. I just know it was a seemingly endless day. We all sat at various points around his bed as Grandmom and Mom said things to him and to one another that I was pretty sure he couldn't hear anyway. Nurses stopped in every few minutes and stared at machines, would look pityingly on the scene, assure us that it was "going to be soon," and would exit again, as it if were some type of assurance...
I lift out the train station that I also knew was his, and remember that when he finally did pass, it wasn't how I had always imagined it would be: he didn't raise his arms up or mention a light, or suddenly become lucid for a brief moment to say a proper good bye. He just... Stopped. Breathing, moaning, drooling.
And then here's "Al's General Store." I had bought this at Zern's with my grandfather. He was always taking us grandkids for rides to the farmer's market, taking us out to eat, making a trip to the bank seem like an adventure not to be missed for anything. Going up with he and Grandmom to their small cabin and stopping in a store much like this model named "Al's." Scrappel was always a must on these cabin trips, although if truth be told I turned up my nose at this mysterious meat and usually had eggs instead.
As I sit here and take my time, saying good bye to some pieces which will not make the cut to Florida and reverently re-wrapping others that will, I am reminded of that late spring morning. I remember the sun was shining fiercely through the window, too bright and too harsh for such a day. Mom and Grandmom held each other tightly with their grief, helping one another to let go. Aunt Mary came up and hugged me, but I didn't want to be hugged or comforted. After all, in my mind, my grandfather had stopped living a year and a half ago. I know I had told him a thousand times I had loved him, but as I stood there, and as I sit here now, trying to say goodbye to some of the pieces of his collection in the hopes that another will find joy through building their own model railroad collection, I can't help but remember...
Did I say goodbye? While parts of that day seem all-too-clear, other parts are so blurry as to barely be recalled. Did I say goodbye?
I'm not sure. But I do know, as I lovingly pack up the water towers, the general store, and a few other choice pieces that I refuse to part with, he will not be forgotten as long as we are around. And when I finally do get that spare room and set up my very own model train set permanently, I will remember him again and fondly think of all the wonderful memories and love he passed on to me and my siblings.
With never a need to having to say goodbye...