Sunday December 12, 2010 may very well be a day that has changed my life forever. Ok, it was not that drastic. However, this day, along with other events over the weekend, may have brought back some of my Christmas spirit. Before all of you start bouncing up and down in your seats, notice I said SOME. The holidays still linger with sadness.
Sunday we got up and ready, the weather started to get really bad Saturday night. I had prayed for snow all week hoping the make the Polar Express trip to the North Pole as magical as I could. Our trip was later in the afternoon, so our trip home on the train would be in the dark. This was going to be awesome to see the snow and the way the lights sparkled.
We started on our journey in my SUV, Matt driving; we slid all over the place. There was no way I was going to drive, that’s too much anxiety for me. So we turned around after we got down to the next corner and got his car. He has rear wheel drive (or is it front wheel?) and even though I have an SUV, his car actually gets better traction then my Explorer. So, a 45min trip there ended up taking us about an hour and a half. It was blizzard snow.
The Steam Railroad Institute is located in Owosso, MI. It is there that we board the North Pole Express, otherwise known as the Polar Express. We arrive at the train station, bundled and freezing. Snow blowing, people running, excitement was in the air. Inside you give your confirmation paper and they give you your keepsake tickets. You can walk around the station where they have many model train displays. There is a bit of history scattered about as well. We had a bit of entertainment while we waited, and even had seating that looked like an old train station.
We did not have to wait long to board the train. We killed some of that time having a “family” photo done. We have photos of the 3 of us, but nothing professionally done. It turned out really nice if I do say so myself. When you arrive on the train there is a nice keepsake welcome booklet in your seat. In the welcome book, on the first page it states:
“We are often asked about other Christmas operations that use the name of the movie and how we are different. While other operations around the country pay for the privilege and the rights to use the name Polar Express, #1225 was the ONE and ONLY steam locomotive that was used for the sound and overall image for the movie.”
I personally had no idea. I knew the movie was actually based on the book, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.
From page 4 of the welcome booklet: “In 2001, SRI was contacted by Warner Brothers Pictures, Inc. to assist with technical matters on a feature film that was in the works……………… staff responded by sending blueprints, video and still photos of 1225 along with coal samples and sever other railroad artifacts. What followed was a 3yr contract for the SRI to serve as technical advisors during the making of the film The Polar Express……Every sound from the locomotive, cars, and equipment was recorded and later used in The Polar Express.” The train ride was awesome! I mean, that’s really all I can say. The conductor came around to punch our tickets when we first got on. After we started moving, a gentleman came through each car singing Christmas songs. Each car had a volunteer to talk to us, like a guide. Ours was so nice.
We got hot cocoa (which was the best hot cocoa I ever had!), saw a group of deer (reindeer according to the kids) running alongside the train. It was so pretty and majestic with the snow falling. Once we got to the North Pole and Santa’s Village, Santa came out to wave at us when we were docking the train. It is here that my tale takes on a completely different turn. You see, the holidays have not been good to me over the years. I wanted so badly for that to change. I wanted to make sure that somehow this trip was special. I never knew I was going to experience what I was about to, it was not expected.
Lil M was SO excited. I have seen her get excited about things, and I have seen her extremely happy. But, there was something different about this. She doesn’t really get excited about the Santa’s at other places. She is really ho-hum about it and gets sort of shy and doesn’t really want to go see him. We try, and sometimes she will go just to amuse us and let us take a picture. But (OMG) she was so excited, her eyes were so big. Her little body was just shaking in her boots. I just lost it. I started to cry like a big old baby. I don’t know what came over me, or even why. But seeing her like that…Wow. I start to tear up as I write this now.
I remember when I was little; Christmas was always special for me, my mom made sure of that. And even though at the time she did not know what was happening to me, this day was MY day and no one was going to take that away from me. We were 1000 miles from our family, so most of the time we were on our own. A few years an aunt and uncle lived in OK, too. As I got older sometimes the neighborhood kids would come over so we could play with our toys. But, I was very much alone inside of my head. Christmas morning I could escape for a brief moment in time. I was about 9 when I found, honestly by accident, the “From Santa” packages. I was crushed. Somehow, Christmas did not change too much.
The past few years Christmas time just has not been good to me. And I guess that moment just got the best of me. I was so happy for her and I felt so good that I could do this for us. Words can’t even express it. It was if at that moment I was seeing myself in her, that excitement I had when I came running down the stairs Christmas morning, that excitement in my eyes. Sadly I was highly embarrassed for anyone to see me cry. I can’t imagine what those people were saying. Lil M asked me why I was crying and all I could say in between sobs was “I am SO happy!” I have questioned this relationship. Wondering if I am strong enough to be a bonus mom to lil M and whether I can handle Matt and all his faults. Questioned whether I can really let my guard down and just finally be me. Is this right for me? Right for us? Where do we go from here and what do we do? While I have been searching for the answers, looking at houses, and yet still trying to work things out, apparently there is love there. This day has changed me, in more ways than one.
Santa’s workshop had carnival type food, games, rides, magic shows and some craft vendors. It was really neat. Matt and I had these Italian sausages with onions and peppers that were homemade and just to die for. We followed that up with a cinnamon and sugar sprinkled elephant ear (there were no funnel cakes BOO!). I have some videos posted on my YouTube Channel : OkIrishChik
I guess maybe my Christmas spirit has returned. Maybe she will stay this time. Maybe I am finally mourning those I have lost, moving forward, and looking forward to making new memories.
When we were leaving, Santa was leaving his chair and lil M spotted him and asked if she could go give him a hug. I said “certainly”. Matt was having a bulb made with our names on it so I walked over there with her and she told Santa she loved him and I started to cry like a big ole baby again. Oh good grief.
They gave our boarding signal and back on the train we went. Once seating and starting to move, the conductor came back around to punch our tickets again. We had bells in our seats, and yes, the 3 of us could hear ours.
Every car has a “special” bell and that child gets a gift package from the gift shop. The little boy next to us was the winner and lil M was so bummed. I thought she was going to cry when she realized she was not the “special” one. Sadly, we are working with her to not be a sore loser and play fairly. She tends to get mad, quits, makes up her own rules, and/or pouts. I did not want this to be a bad ending, so I had Matt act as if he was going potty while she was staring out the window at the lights. I told him to grab a couple of packets of the Christmas and train stickers they had in the gift shop. He came back and acted like he did not know he was sitting on them the whole time. I told lil M that when she was hugging Santa good-bye his magic left her a special present. She then proceeded to wave it in front of that lil boy. *DOH* I had to giggle a bit, but Matt had to tell her to stop. *oye* Poor girl.
Magically we left the North Pole and arrived safely back in Owosso. We then had to leave there; drive all the way to Fenton to drop lil M off at her home and then drive back to Birch Run. Good thing Matt has been driving in this mess all his life. We would have never of made it if I was driving. So much fun to see all the other kids (baby sister, sis, and brother), her mom, her mom’s husband and his brother, as well as Grandma (not to be confused with Grammie, Matts mom). Always a houseful over there and a headache waiting to happen. One minute there and you can understand why lil M has some of the personality characteristics that she does. Her mom did say thank you for taking her, so that was nice of her. She seemed genuinely excited for lil M. Sis was feeding me cookies. Baby sis was trying to get me to play dollies with her. Lil M just wanted me to see her room!
The train is rather expensive considering the price of things these days, Adult tickets are $70 and Kids are $40. And for us, it was worth every penny. They also have a new Cocoa Class section, the car is highly decorated, the cocoa is unlimited and they get cookies and a mug to keep. That is $85 and $55. I was going to do that since this was our first time going, but tickets were all sold out.
I did I buy us all souvenirs. I really wanted to remember this day. I got Matt and I coffee mugs, got him a Railroads of Michigan history book (go figure). Lil M and I got matching fuzzy kitties. Cinders is the stray that has made himself at home in the train station. The proceeds from his stuffed animal go towards his care as well as funding for the train. I plan to use mine as a Christmas decoration for memories. I got lil M a train set, and Matt a bigger train. No train for me. LOL.
So, all my hard work and dedication to my writing has paid off. Without the stress, backache, finger aches, headaches, and dedication I would not have been able to take my little “family” on this trip. Matt says he would like to go again next year.
Next year I am wearing my PJs and snow boots like others did J