FIRST PUBLISHED JAN. 2, 2015
When we asked our son and daughter-in-law what our granddaughter Olivia wanted for Hanukkah or Christmas, we found out she likes trains. That made me so happy, for everywhere we've ever lived we've been able to see or hear them. A far-off train whistle, to me, is one of the sweetest and most melancholy sounds all at the same time. I just love it when I hear one.
Olivia is quite fond of "The Train Song" by Charlie Hope, currently popular among the day care set. (If you haven't heard this song, it is one of the best children's songs that adults can truly enjoy as well. Pull it up on YouTube. It might make you nostalgic enough to set up your old train set!)
Quite naturally, we started looking for all things train as potential gifts. At the Southern Christmas Show in Charlotte, we found a wooden train, each little brown car spelling out O-L-I-V-I-A with a black engine in front and a red caboose bringing up the rear. And Grampy wanted her to have an engineer hat just like her daddy had when he was little, so we got one of those at the Lionel train booth. She likes her train, but doesn't think much of the hat.
I stopped in a children's consignment store shortly before the holidays and saw several train-related toys. So I loaded up with a Thomas the Train DVD, a jumbo alphabet train floor puzzle, a four-piece wooden train puzzle the pieces of which connect to make a four-car train, and what turned out to be Olivia's favorite: a train puzzle that makes the sound of a train whistle as each piece is put into place. Way cool! I couldn't help but smile as I recalled a t-shirt slogan on Facebook recently stating, "I don't spoil my grandchildren. I'm just very accommodating." Indeed! I made sure I accommodated all her playtime needs.
I wanted Olivia's Hanukkah gift to tell a story of her Ohio family history. When my cousin Kathy brought me some old barn wood from her farm, I envisioned using it in mixed media art projects. After learning of Olivia's love of trains, inspiration struck! Eagerly anticipating her arrival for the holidays, I began humming "She'll be comin' round the mountain when she comes" as I examined the barn wood. I saw the hills of southeast Ohio where my parents were born and raised in one rough and jagged vertical piece. Painted purple and green to look like those Appalachian foothills, artificial wisteria threaded through old nail holes gave it the appearance of a southern summer countryside. A smaller horizontal piece of barn wood attached to the bottom created the ground for a miniature train running along the base of the mountain. Tiny wildflowers planted alongside the train complete the scene and, voila!, the first piece of art I have made for her.
We topped off all this train craziness with a train gingerbread kit to complement a miniature gingerbread village. Olivia, her mama and I made them both the day after Christmas, Olivia being much more engaged in this activity this year now that she's almost 2. She loves to help out in the kitchen!
So, are any of these train items her favorite Christmas or Hanukkah gifts? Nope. She'll love them all over time, but for now she just adores looking at all the family photos we put in a cloth-bound child's photo album we got her. And she knows who everyone is in those photos, too! I'm sure glad we thought of something else we were certain she would enjoy. Sometimes, grandparents just know what will captivate the mind of a toddler!