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My Turn: Remembering my most disappointing Christmas

"On track for the holidays," the Dec. 6 LI Life cover story about model trains, brought back many memories — not all happy.

I grew up with hardworking immigrant parents who provided a blue-collar family life. We had "enough," but very little extra, so I learned not to ask for big-ticket items, like bicycles, for Christmas or birthdays. As a result, like a lot of other children, I received the usual clothing and necessary, everyday boring items as gifts.

When I was in grade school, I had a classmate who turned out to have a model train set and village layout in his basement. Perhaps it was because I was destined to be an architect that I was fascinated with the miniature village and especially the Lionel trains going through and around it, something I had never seen before. My buddy had just had a birthday and had received a new locomotive for his extensive set. It was Lionel’s masterpiece that had molded details, a whistle, doors that opened and, best of all, a smokestack you dropped a pellet into so that the natural heat from the running locomotive produced smoke. After playing with the set with my buddy, I wanted one like he had, village and all, but I knew I had to start small and build on it piece by piece.

For the first time before Christmas, I started dropping hints to my parents and other family members who gave me gifts that I wanted one of the new Lionel locomotives. I knew they were expensive so I suggested family and relatives team up, combine resources and eliminate other gifts to get it and any other track accessories they could afford.

When Christmas Eve came around, I was more excited than ever, looking forward to my very own Lionel locomotive and the start of my new hobby. Our gathered family took turns opening one gift at a time, and I went through the usual gifts of handkerchiefs, underwear, ties, etc., until near the end I was handed a large box from my aunt that I kept praying would be from Lionel.

My heart dropped when I unwrapped the large box to reveal an illustration of a complete train set — a cheap imitation made in Japan. Instead of the molded and operational detail of Lionel, mine was a painted tin set with a 4-foot oval track, locomotive, log carrier, one passenger car and a caboose, and a small motor to operate them. All the cars were painted; nothing opened, nothing moved other than the wheels; you couldn’t do anything with it, like loading and unloading cargo or passengers. You could only connect the track into an oval, hook up the trains and watch it go around. That was it. No imagination needed. I played with it for a few minutes and after that I never played with it again. It served a couple of years under the family Christmas tree, running in ovals around the base, before being boxed and forgotten.

I never could understand why adults didn’t listen to me and my ingenious plan of combining resources to get me something I really wanted. I never did get a Lionel or any other train because anytime I asked or suggested one, the answer was always, "you already have a train set and you never play with it."

Kids todays have it a lot easier, with volumes of visual and media aids to help them tell parents and Santa EXACTLY what they want — and they get it.

Orlando T. Maione,

Stony Brook

YOUR STORY Letters and essays for My Turn are original works (of up to 600 words) by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email act2@newsday.com. Include name, address, phone numbers and photos if available. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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