Every year when Christmas comes around, I think of Christmas’ past like everyone else. One brought Ruth and me a very unusual and totally unexpected gift that smelled of fixative and proved to be a lot more trouble than it was worth.
Twas the day after Christmas and all through the California State Capitol in Sacramento were very few people. It was the only attraction opened at 9 am. After a guided tour, I wanted to take some notes in its small museum (Because of the Gold Rush, California quickly entered the Union as a State in 1850 and was never a territory). At the time of our visit, Arnold Schwarzenegger was Governator. Ruth became bored, wondered if he was on duty, and wandered down the hall to his office.
Told that she couldn’t enter, Ruth suggested that the two armed guards at the door accompany her inside. Since the Christmas spirit still lingered, they agreed.
The Governor, of course, was away for the holidays, but his secretary was working. On Schwarzenegger’s official desk was an almost 2-foot long gingerbread train, clearly a special Christmas treat.
“Oh!” Ruth exclaimed. “I know someone who would love that train. He’s 3 and a big Thomas The Tank Engine fan. He wears his Thomas shirt almost every day.”
The Governor’s secretary smiled and said, “Well, it is after Christmas, so go ahead and take it.”
One minute later I was approached by a shocked, grinning Ruth carrying what looked like—and was—an extremely fragile but way cute gingerbread creation. “What are we going to do with that?” I asked incredulously.
“Send it to Patrick,” Ruth replied simply.
One hour later we were at an UPS office. Despite minimal jostling, the train’s little yellow icing windows were already falling off, and a lady in line listened to Ruth’s story and said we’d have to coat it with something to make it tough enough to ship.
I asked directions, went to the nearest hardware store, and was soon on the strip mall’s sidewalk spraying fixative onto the festive 3-piece train’s engine, freight car, and caboose, all decorated with increasingly inedible gum drops, sugary holly leaves, and candy canes.
The UPS man stared doubtfully at a difficult shipping problem and said, “I don’t have a box big enough, and it probably won’t make it even if you spend the $127 it will cost to get it there.”
I was ready to abandon the project, but Ruth was determined. “We’ll take it home with us,” she announced.
It wasn’t easy. Security checkpoints were especially taxing, as was handling an awkward gingerbread construction that would neither fit in overhead nor under the seat in front of her on a crowded plane. Ruth had to stop frequently to tell her story to many curious travelers and flight attendants who invariably asked, “What’s that?”
It was worth it, however, when Patrick perched on his favorite stool and stared at his train for seconds, then minutes, and finally long periods of time making train sounds.