A couple of months ago I received a call from my friend, Jana, asking if I’d be willing to read a children’s train story for an event today at the Marshall Depot. She wanted to schedule “local personalities” to read a story every hour on the hour in an effort to encourage families to visit the depot, tour the museum, etc. I agreed to do it, even though I had no clue what I would read. The only train story that popped into my mind was The Little Engine That Could, and (no surprise) it was already spoken for.
Bunny trail. A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a young mom inviting everyone involved in MOPS to attend the “Reading at the Railroad” event. Not knowing I’d been asked to read, she said, “Books will be read by ‘local personalities,’ whatever that means.” Ha! I wrote back that I was pretty sure it meant “weirdos.”
Anyway, I logged onto Amazon, located a book that looked like a winner, and ordered it. Yesterday and this morning I practiced on Jacob, reading the story aloud, developing various sound effects, showing him the pictures, and asking pertinent questions. He seemed to enjoy the story, was amused by the illustrations, and answered all the questions correctly. So far, so good.
We arrived at the depot about twenty minutes early and suddenly I got nervous. Not about reading the story, though. About the stairs. I’ve been there a number of times, but I’d forgotten about the stairs. The only way into the depot is to walk down a couple dozen steps and through an underground tunnel.
Jacob has a thing about stairs. (Thankfully not the sort of “thing” Michael Buble has going on with Mrs. Mrs. Jones.) There’s no physical reason why he shouldn’t be able to go up and down stairs without hesitation, but something in the way his brain perceives them makes him panic and lose his balance. He can go down pretty well, but up? Not so much. When George is around, he wraps Jacob’s arms around his neck and carries him on his back.
Did I mention George is in Africa? I might also want to mention that Jacob is 27 years old–much taller and at least 50 pounds heavier than me. Yeah. Houston, we have a problem.
I helped Jacob down the stairs, and he did pretty well. I’d have to figure out our exit strategy later.
Jana met me at the door with a big hug. Inside, a couple of festive tables provided pitchers of ice-cold lemonade and trays filled with an assortment of cookies. Across the room, a sea of miniature chairs in primary colors paid homage to a small orange stool. My “throne,” Jana said.
I snapped a few shots of the kids who’d already gathered. Introverts and extroverts formed ranks, the former hiding in their mommy’s laps, the latter clamoring for my attention. One girl in particular, a Shirley Temple look-alike named Erin, obviously loved the spotlight. Wherever I aimed my camera, she scurried into the frame, smiled, and yelled, “CHEESE!” As more kids arrived, the energy level rose exponentially. I wanted to holler toward the snack table, “Hey, would someone give these kids more cookies and lemonade? Obviously they need sugar.” But I refrained. Irony is lost on the preschool set, and I might have offended their parents.
In no time several children had spilled their drinks or kicked over someone else’s. Moms grabbed napkins to toss on the puddles. Finally Jana stood up in front and corralled the herd. She introduced me, I seated myself on my orange throne, and off we chugged on the storybook train.
I think it went pretty well. Except for a couple of minor distractions, the kids stayed focused on the story, laughed at the pictures, and answered my questions. Afterward Jana asked me to draw a name out of a box for a door prize. Erin won. “Thanks for making me win,” she said. I tried to explain that I hadn’t, but I’m not sure she followed. She was too busy smiling for more pictures.
Jana was pleased. She loved the story. Several parents complimented my performance. Yay me. Job well done. Time to go home.
Um, exit strategy anyone?
I asked if there were any way out of the depot without taking the tunnel stairs. Jana directed me to an elevator, but after wandering around the ground level a bit we were told there were no exits to the parking lot from there–only to the train platform. The manager of the gift shop, Carolyn, told us to ride the elevator back down and she’d help us try to use “the lift.” The way she said those words made me think maybe we should just buy a train ticket to anywhere instead. But we headed back to the elevator.
I’d noticed the wheelchair lift when we arrived and wondered if it actually worked. It’s appearance failed to impress, and Carolyn confirmed that, in this case, looks were not deceiving. Apparently the heat and humidity in the tunnel wreaks havoc on its mechanism. But she was determined we would make it work. After jiggling the key this way and that, pushing various buttons, and making a couple of trips up and down the stairs to fiddle with the two sets of controls, the lift creaked its way from the bottom to the top. We weren’t on it, though. The platform was still in its upright position. Carolyn didn’t explain why she sent it all the way up, then lowered the platform and brought it back down, but I suppose she had good reasons. At any rate, she got her exercise running up and down the stairs every time it stalled out. Finally, it was back at the foot of the stairs and ready for us to climb on. I helped Jacob sit on the little seat and stood beside him.
More key jiggling and button pushing and the motor started again. The machinery grated and groaned but we finally began our ascent. We made it almost halfway before the first break down. Carolyn ran up and down a couple of time, fiddling here, jiggling there. Jacob and I remained on our platform. All this time, families had been coming and going on the stairs. Some only shot curious glances our way. A few children asked questions. Carolyn answered cheerfully as she jogged past them.
When we were barely past halfway up, the lift died for keeps. There were about nine or ten steps left. I helped Jacob stand and took both his hands. The tension in his grip told me he was afraid. “You can do this, Jacob,” I said. “It’s not that many more steps than the ones to our front door. Just keep your eyes on the steps.”
With me going up backwards in front of him, holding his hands, and Carolyn beside him steadying his arm, we made it to the top without incident. This evening we attended a wedding at our church, but I decided not to drive to Longview for the reception at a museum. I don’t know the facility, and I’m not equal to any more stairs today. In fact, I think Jacob and I will hang out around the house and watch movies till George gets home. (He’s in Africa, by the way, in case I failed to mention it.)
Even though we almost had to take up residence in the depot for a few weeks, I enjoyed Reading at the Railroad. And I got some cute pictures. One guess who dominates them. To meet Erin and her friends, click here.