Through a Child's Eyes
Ernie reflects on the magic of being a grandparent
The train engine blew its steam whistle, loud and exhilarating.
Alice has been fascinated by trains since she was a toddler. Once, while playing in the city park in Sandpoint, a train pulled into town. Alice, about two years old, stopped her fun on the swing and slide set to watch with rapt attention. The pictures of her on that day show a little girl next to a slide focused on something out of the picture — it was the train.
Alice’s mom Ana told us about a historic train ride available in the foothills of Mt. Rainier. As soon as Ana told us about the ride we thought we were on to something good and we went online and got tickets. The Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad and Museum sounded like a perfect excursion for a couple of grandparents and two granddaughters, Lucy, two years old and Alice, now closing in on five.
Early one morning we headed out on the hour-and-a-half drive. It took us across the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge which is a fascination for me. We spent a little time going south on I-5, then started into the countryside and the foothills. We were a little early for the best fall colors and the ceiling was quite low. Linda and I had hoped for some views of Mt. Rainier but gave up that as we looked at the weather.
We didn’t tell Alice what we were doing, only that we were off on an adventure. She is always ready for adventure. Lucy, a life-loving, energetic kid, is ready for any fun that comes her way.
Lucy babbled her gibberish as we drove and Alice noticed the bridge, the farms and the old barns along the road. She also saw the railroad track beside the road and asked if we would see a train. I said I hope so. As we pulled into Elbe, Washington, Alice saw several old passenger cars and started to get excited. When we parked she wondered if we could get in the train cars. I said I hope so.
We sat on a bench next to the tracks to eat our sandwiches. Linda went into the terminal to redeem the tickets we had ordered. I wandered in with the girls, who immediately saw several train toys and the excitement level started to climb.
I asked Alice if she wanted to go for a ride on a big train. Not the little ones she had been on at the zoo. He eyes lit up when I said, “One like the “Polar Express”.” As Linda rejoined us with the tickets Alice was jumping and shouting “Yes, yes, yes!” Lucy grinned her happy grin; she knew we were up to something good.
Back outside next to the track, Alice needed reassurance the train was coming and we would get a ride. Linda and I promised her all the people there were waiting for the train and it was going be here soon.
The track curved out of sight just a few feet from us so we could not see it approaching.
Then the whistle blew. I looked at Lucy, who smiled big, but Alice next to her stood still. Her eyes were as big as they could get, her mouth wide open, and it looked like her feet were glued to the earth. She was too excited to make a sound or move at all; she could only stand, silently shouting her glee as the train came into view.
As it stopped, we moved back so those who were on could disembark. We had to wait for the engine to turn around so it was few more minutes before we boarded. I think that is when Alice started to believe we were going for a train ride. In our seats with a table between us, Lucy stared out the window while Alice wanted to look at the whole train. She and Grandma were off checking it all out.
Alice loved the ride: the bouncing, the noise, the clickity-click of the track. I’m not sure the scenery was of much notice but the trestles over the rivers were cool.
Linda and I were having fun; most of it was watching the girls being so entertained by the experience. When the conductor came in and called, “Tickets, please,” he punched the adults each once, but when Alice and Lucy gave him theirs it took a little more time. I was reminded of the “Polar Express” conductor who punches out words the passenger needs to hear. When our conductor gave the girls their tickets, each one had a smiley face punched in it.
The turnaround is at the old logging town of Mineral, Washington. There, the historic rail museum allows for entertaining time off the train. The girls found a real locomotive they could climb aboard. Lucy loved trying to turn all the bright red valves. She grabbed each one, or sometimes two, and twisted it with all her two-year- old strength. Alice, on the engineer’s seat, pulled the rope and rang the bell. After a few minutes we pointed out other people wanted to ring the bell — like Grandpa. After she was out of the locomotive she headed around it and back in line.
This was a day of joy. Joy created by simply being in the presence of two little girls; two girls who were being allowed to do something they had only seen in movies or read about in books. Now it was their experience to own and to cherish. And it was our experience to own and to cherish.
Ernie Hawks is the author of “Every Day is a High Holy Day; Stories of an Adventuring Spirit” available on Amazon, Kindle or in your favorite bookstore. Photo, above, by Ernie Hawks.