Friday, December 10, 2010

Bob's Strombecker Train Apart

It's the only time I have gone to purchase something and hoped it was not for sale.

Surely, as much as I wanted it, someone else treasured it more.

Like Woody landing in the garage sale box, part of me wanted to believe it was all a mistake. After all, across the top of the Boy Scouts' "Shoe for all Boys" brown, oxford shoebox (size 5) were the handwritten words:

Bob's Colored Wooden Train SAVE

And if that didn't convince rummaging family members to save it, the black ink on the side of the box reiterated:

Where was Bob???

Did he even know his dear wooden train set was sitting haphazardly near the edge of an overstuffed table, surrounded by chipped teacups, old Christmas decorations, and a tropical-themed paper towel holder?

I went by it for the first time and just read the label. Surely, someone put old felt scraps in a box that just happened to say Bob's Colored Wooden Train on it, right? After all, some family member, parent I surmise, specifically labeled this and wrote SAVE across the top. If ever kids were going to obey, you hope it's when they see your words in capital letters!

I meandered, and returned, curiosity pulling me through the Saturday-morning yard sale frenzy to the folding table. Feeling a bit like I was treading on sacred ground, I lifted the lid. My heart sank and soared.

Inside, like old dried bones, lay wooden pieces, colored and aged beautifully, well-used and carefully counted each time they were picked up - the full set of Brother Bob's Wooden Train Set.

Someone had decided the letters imprinted on the shoebox were no longer important. Bob's Wooden Train Set SAVE. What part of that phrase was grounds for disregard? Was it Bob himself? Had he been unworthy? Disappointing? A prodigal that had never returned? Or was it the "Wooden Train" part? The materialism of a toy, nothing more. Maybe a boring toy that Bob never even liked, a train that he never wanted but that someone else thought he needed to save. Or was it the word SAVE that was disregarded? Maybe it had nothing to do with Bob or the train itself, but with the person who wrote in capital letters for emphasis. Did the writer's word "Save" translate into materialism, or dementia, or hoarding, or awkward love for a son?

I put the lid back on the box and carried it to the man wearing the fanny pack. (You always know who is running the garage sale by this telltale sign - the fanny pack.) He turned to me and adjusted his baseball hat.

"G'morning," he said warmly.

"Good morning," I answered. "Are you Bob?" I lifted the box to show him the lid.

"Yeah. My old train set. I'll give that to you for five dollars."

My heart shouted "Five dollars?!! Appalling! Don't you see what's written across the top?!!"

My brain said, "Five dollars?!! What a deal! Sold!"

"Okay," I answered, moving both hesitantly and yet excitedly to my wallet. "Are you sure you don't want to keep it?"

Bob shrugged, and waved his hand in dismissal. "My dad kept everything we ever played with. That's why we have so much junk to clear out."

Ouch, I thought. Junk. Someday, it's what my own kids will call it all, lining it up on the sidewalk in the sunshine. And that will be just fine with me.

Except it won't be, if I wrote the word SAVE on it. Then, my word would mean SAVE. Other words sprawled across boxes will mean things too, like "Sug's Bitty Baby SAVE" or "Punkin's First Piano Lessons SAVE" or "Little Man's Green Backpack SAVE." Will they read into my words, each letter important when I'm gone? Their names, like baseball-cap Bob, I pray, will be read with Mom's handwriting speaking her heart - cherished, treasured, no matter if they are prodigals or disappointing or successful or wandering. The specific boxes contents, even these words will mean something - yes, just material possessions, but special and worth marking a shoebox and carving a spot in the attic. And that last word - SAVE. I pray that they sense my heart in that word, whether they choose to abide by it or disregard it. I don't really care too much if Sugs decides not to keep Bitty Baby for her own grandchildren, as long as she senses her mother's affection for her in the act of saving.

Perhaps we won't cherish the things our parents' cherished. Perhaps our kids won't cherish the things we cherished. But will they sense our hearts in the very words? Unconditional acceptance, love without strings...

Bob seemed to be unperturbed by the sale, certainly not a monumental moment for him. Maybe his dad marked everything with the word SAVE. Or maybe they were paying medical bills that were much more important than an old, wooden train set.

He took my five dollars and directed me towards a box of old records, should I be interested in other antiques.

I wasn't.

Just this one antique.

It meant something to someone. But not enough.

And in many ways, the man was right. It was just stuff, a mere toy.

But it spoke of a father's heart. A father who carefully marked the box, stashed it for years somewhere safe. It obviously meant something to him, nostalgia and memories on red wheels.

And now, as the Little Man and I roll "The Strombecker Train Apart" around our wood floor, I wonder. Does the passenger car go in the back or the front? Are we setting it up the right way? And what's a Strombecker anyways?

The images flutter around in my head like mosquitoes around an outdoor lightbulb, none of them really connected to one another. Father and son playing wooden train...perhaps a son unwrapping it or buying it with hard-earned money...the day someone boxed it up and knew someone else needed to be reminded, even from the grave, to save it.

Obviously, there was a father's love here. And a son's choice to let this specific handwritten sample of love go for the reasonable price of five dollars. Perhaps I'm reading far too much into it, but to this day I find myself cleaning up the Strombecker Train Apart and glancing at the lid. I even mentioned it to my mother, showing her the handwriting and surprising both her and myself with tears. "They didn't save it, like he asked them to."

But perhaps the handwriting across the top needed to be there for a son to read, to someday know that his now-gone father had kept it all of these years.

I take that thought to heart these days. Might my busy Christmas antics come from an overflow of the heart, not from demanding expectations or impressive results. No matter what the responses might be - this Christmas and in fifty years, I pray that my gifts would come with truth, not manipulative or materialistic or insincerely manufactured.

Are any of our gifts given so that we receive certain results? Are there unseen strings attached to our gifts, expectations we have?

I pray not.

Might we give generously this Christmas season. And might we rejoice in the giving, not the resulting responses to our gifts. Whether the homeless man flips you off for the hot cup of coffee (Oh yes, he did!) or whether he leans his head into your car and smiles his missing-teeth-smile at kids while saying "God bless you!" (Oh yes, he did!), let us give with hearts that shine His love, no matter what we get in return.

I'm jumping in with both feet, giving with reckless abandon as He leads me. Whether my kids sense my love, or sell it at a garage sale, it's not really about the stuff anyways. There is thought and cost in most of the gifts I will be giving, but more importantly, there will be deliberate and overflowing joy. Might this be what recipients sense.

I pray you are enjoying this season with dreams unfolding - sometimes not the way you wanted, or perhaps better than you ever imagined - and with grace, always grace. Which takes disappointments of children, and brokenness, and tense family moments, and unappreciated gifts, and pours life into these.

Resting in His Perfect Gift,


David Rupert said...

How many of our gifts will end up in a garage sale or the trash or unused?

Wonderfully rich post.

David Rupert said...

I featured this post today at the High Calling, Around the Network, featuring some of the best blogs around.

The link is found here:
Find the link here:

David Rupert
High Calling Newsletter Editor

Marcus Goodyear said...

This is heart-breaking in a way, not so much that Bob didn't really want to save the train after all. But that we are so bad at knowing what parts of our lives we are going to want to save in the end.

Great pictures, too!

(And I LOVE trains.)

Dena Dyer said...

This was lovely. The pictures are total eye-candy, and the words moved me. Congrats on getting featured at The High Calling. It's well deserved!

Brock S. Henning said...

That is such an interesting story! Clearly the man had an emotional tie to the train set, given his response at selling it. Leaves much to wonder what was going on inside of him, and the value of the words written on the box. Super job sharing this with us!

Ann Kroeker said...

I love the train of thoughts that begin to flow, one after another, from the first moment you set eyes on that box and the scribbled note.

So many questions it raises, as you've explored here, about the parents; about Bob; about the train; about saving and selling and letting go; about honoring and respecting people's wishes.

I love that you plopped down that money and snatched up the train!

Now it's yours, and I wonder what you will write on the box?

Or maybe you already have written on the box in this post?

Hm...perhaps you could print this off and tape it to the underside of the lid, for whoever gets the train next? :)

Karen said...

Wow, thank you for the wonderful words, friends. I'm inspired by so many of your blogs, and you took the time to write to little ol' me! :) Ann, I'm printing this off and taping it to the lid - thanks for the great idea.

Heather said...

Loved how you wrote this piece. My mom has this same train that was hers and she just handed it down to my children who I hope will hand it down to theirs. These pieces of wood are not just timeless toys they are part of our history. They don't make toys like they used to:)

Artist said...

Sell it to me please. in Oregon. I need it. Thanks.

The Adventures of Jay and Mary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Adventures of Jay and Mary said...

I have only one toy from my childhood. It is a Strom Becker Train Apart that I received for Christmas in 1956. Not sure why it is so special to me, but you can tell it has been played with a lot (I shared with 5 other siblings and dozens of nieces and nephews.) I reclaimed it a few years ago when my parents moved to their retirement home. My father rebuilt a few parts that were missing or broken (maybe that is why it is special?). Now it stands year round on my living room mantle. Strom Becker Train Apart

LucyBug said...

Just retrieved my Train from my 92 year old parents' house. From the pictures I have a car missing! Will be on the search for that later this week. I love my train, as did my nephews, daughter, and granddaughter. So happy it is in my house now! Thanks for your great post.