Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Something Blue

"Something olde, something new, something borrowed, something blue."
-- Old English Rhyme

We are the sum of our experiences, and in my case, that sum is approaching yet another number evenly divisible by ten. To be perfectly honest, that's spooking me a little, because I've never thought of myself as my true age. I certainly don't always behave in accordance with the expectations and standards of my years, yet I know that the calendar doesn't lie. For the most part, I'm okay with that.

Lately, one of my favorite weekend activities has been browsing local antiques shops, and a few Saturdays ago, I was contentedly shuffling among the aisles at one of our regular haunts, Queen of Hearts Antiques and Interiors in Alpharetta. I was checking out ancient LP's, creatively styled lamps, Hardy Boys collections, whatever I came across. Eventually, I made my way to the rear of the store, where a new model train room had been set up, and this piqued my interest, because at one point in my life, I had kinda sorta become a train collector.

A small slice of the train collection
My first train was a classic Lionel O gauge set that I got for Christmas in 1959. I would set it up every year on a small circular track under our Christmas tree, but I never got more than seven or eight cars, one of which transported a giraffe whose head would duck when it passed under a bar mounted above the track.

Fast forward to one afternoon in late 1979. I was doing dome Christmas shopping at the State Street Marshall Field's department store in downtown Chicago when I spotted a Marklin Z gauge train setup, and I was enamored of it instantly. Z gauge is the smallest size of model train that is manufactured -- the little people that make up the tiny train towns through which Z's course are so small as to be unrecognizable as human. Nevertheless, I fell for this grand toy, and that Christmas, my wife gave me an N gauge (one size larger) train set. I attempted to set it up in our high rise apartment, but within a couple of months, we had moved to another apartment in the suburbs, and after a brief foray into train layout design, I boxed up the trains and became obsessed with a darkroom hobby. I reconfigured the train board I'd bought into a darkroom (read bathroom) light sealer. But I digress.

That Saturday in Queen of Hearts, as I was poring over the train pieces, something hit me without warning, a steep drop in energy level, mood and general well-being, an afternoon ennui that could only be characterized as an acute case of the blues. I tried to find a place to sit down, but most of the chairs had "No Parking" signs on them, so I slowed my pace and tried to collect myself. And then it dawned on me: I'd never really done anything with those trains. Even though people had given me train cars and accessories for years after I had moved out of that city apartment, I'd never brought anything rail-related to fruition. Perhaps more significantly, I realized that there was a lot of stuff I hadn't done.

When I first started visiting antiques stores and flea markets back in the 1980's, most of the items were remnants of my parents' and grandparents' generations. It was not uncommon to find hardware from the 1920's, vintage Victrolas with accompanying stacks of 78's, or sheet music from the 1940's. But now, I realized that the items in Queen of Hearts were not only souvenirs of my own childhood, but many of them were items I'd actually owned back when "Thirtysomething" and "L.A. Law" were on the air. At that point, no vintage lunchbox, five dollar miniature Richard Petty statue or whimsical chicken sculpture could bring me back. I was over the edge.

I returned home, and in a trance-like state, I attempted to remove some stripped screws from a cabinet, to no avail. Two trips to Home Depot and one to Lowe's provided no workable solution. And to top it off, there was this whole train thing. Why hadn't I done something with it? What was I thinking? Where had the time gone? What about all the other stuff I was supposed to have done? Oy. I muddled through the rest of the weekend, but I never really got my energy back. And then the week started. I began mine in an uncharacteristically foul mood.

But on that Monday afternoon, as I was perusing Facebook, I read a post from my younger daughter about how she had befriended a homeless Vietnam veteran on the street in Chapel Hill and bought him coffee while they discussed life. He told her that she had showed him more kindness than he'd seen in years. Soon afterward, my older daughter reposted the story, saying how proud she was of her younger sister, likening her to a guardian angel. Suddenly, everything was put in perspective. It really didn't matter that the little freight cars were still sitting in boxes, or that the darkroom hobby had faded away, or that some of that "other stuff" hadn't gotten done, because seeing those posts underscored the fact that being a father to these two remarkable young ladies has been my most important activity, and that it is elemental to who I am.

I know that I'll eventually get the train out again, and who knows, I may set everything up, complete with waving passengers and little dogs that forage for scraps along the tracks. And eventually, I may remove those stripped screws from the cabinets and find myself in an protracted home renovation mood. Okay, that may be stretching it a bit, but you get the idea. Truly, I feel a lot more confident about these things. After all, "L.A. Law" is now out on DVD. Heck, I might even go back and get that Richard Petty statue.