The Toy Train

Staring at the corner of his small, shaded, shared room which smells of disinfectant, death and old wool, all that’s left of Jake’s life stands on the shelf before him: a couple of dusty, unframed photos (faded images of lost faces, youth and health) on a teetering pile of once comforting books, earmarked and yellowed, barely held together by their cracked and broken bindings.

Lifting them from their place would reveal a thick outline of their long neglect but the books are now just painful reminders of his last stroke and the words are un-consoling strangers among the unclear images that come, and mostly go, of what’s come and all but gone in Jake’s long, lonely life of merely living long.

Yet there’s something on that meager shelf the old man treasures which came to him one summer from his only uncle, Joe, a large, quiet man with the strength of a bull, who worked his whole life in the northern logging camps, bringing down trees, building other men’s wealth.

The meeting was brief but the moment still strong in a desperate childhood filled with hunger and want. He’d come down from the highland forests the August Jake turned six. The air was stifling – thick, as was Joe’s large frame filling the door of the derelict cabin where the boy and his mom scratched out their living mending shirts, washing laundry, running errands – any work to be found up and down the great, green mountain.

The unexpected visit surprised Jake’s mom, who hadn’t seen her brother since they were young. Sent off as soon as they could earn a living on their own. She embraced the waist of the burly, bearded man, who returned the hug with one, massive, tree-trunk-of-an-arm, then turning to his only nephew with a wide, toothy grin, Joe revealed his hidden arm, where two objects lay in his giant, calloused palm.

With fingers big as branches, with bits of paper, bark and wire, the woodsman had turned simple scraps he’d found around the camp into a logging train, with its smokestack engine coupled to a car fully loaded with tiny, timbered logs tied up with string.

“Ain’t much.”

But it was everything.

Sitting at the large, well-worn work table together, Jake’s uncle and mother searched for words to close the gap of so many years, while the boy rested his chin against his sinewy, tanned arms, crossed atop the hard-scrubbed pine, staring eye-level at the train.

Hesitant to touch it for fear it would, like a fidgety spirit, fade away.

Or worse, break in his young, but hardened hands.

Just studying it – knowing it was his – was more than enough for the boy.

The brief visit would be the first and last time he would see his Uncle Joe, whose large, lumberjack’s frame had barely left the shadow of the shack before the grind of what would be Jake’s life had begun again.

Having that train in his sight each day – the one made just for him a lifetime away – made even the strangest places left behind and those ahead, endurable.

And Jake feel fairly human.

Author: Anne Celano Frohna

I have been writing for as long as I could hold a pencil in hand and would not feel complete without it. And I actually made a meager living at it (and as an editor) for 25 years. I worked for newspapers and magazines, in graphic arts and advertising, and wrote several local history books. But I have also taught English in Japan, been a Nanny in Italy, worked in and for museums, and was an Airbnb Superhost for four years. After moving to Arizona with my family in 2010, I completed a series of different writing projects, including two books of creative non-fiction: Just West of the Midwest: a comedy (Based on journals I kept during my two years as an English teacher in rural Japan.) Within Close Range: short stories of an American Childhood (Short stories and poems about growing up as the middle of five children in suburban Chicago.) I've also written children's stories and continue to write short fiction, but have recently found my voice in poetry. And when I'm not moved to write, or research a large piece of fiction I'm formulating, I focus much of my energies on running my Etsy shop, ChannelingNonna (channelingnonnavintage.com), where I sell vintage clothing, folk art, books, and a trove of other items I have found and continue to bring home from thrift stores, barn sales, yard sales, estate sales, etc., whereever I roam. This blog, however, is where my greatest passion comes alive. Thus, this blog, where I post my creative non-fiction, short stories, a couple of illustrated children's stories and a comedy I wrote about two years I spent teaching English in rural Japan (NOT a story for a child.). I am also a mother of two wonderful girls, Eva (23) and Sophia (21) and wife to one wonderful husband, Kurt.

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