The best of the Polar Express

When the classic Christmas book came out in 1985, it was a present under my Christmas tree for me and my son. The Polar Express was the tale of a boy’s dreamlike train ride with other children to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. The young boy asks for a bell from Santa.When the children return to the train, the boy realizes the bell has fallen through a hole in his pocket. The train drops him at his door and he goes to bed but in the morning, his sister finds one small box with the boy’s name on it among the presents. Inside is the silver bell! They hear it ring and ring but their parents cannot hear the sound at all.

Beautifully wrapped from Grandma, the hard cover was presented in a special gold, gilded box. The book sat comfortably next to the inspired sleigh bell. As my family grew, we read the Polar Express every year. Every year it was a new story. The book was a beautiful meditation on Christmas magic.

In 2004, Tom Hanks played the mystical conductor in the Polar Express, now a timeless holiday movie. Many classrooms watch the Polar Express at school as a parting gift to start the winter break every year. But the Polar Express movie has always scared me a little.The roller coaster train drama was a bit frightening and the elf workshops on the North Pole were cold factories; losing their graceful appeal that other North Pole stories usually offer.

For me, I just wanted to read the book, eat chocolate and pretend. Ultimately, believe.

This week, the last week of school in which I assist, elementary classes received tickets to ride the Polar Express in the IMC, better known as the library. Please wear pajamas and hot chocolate will be served.  Ms. Hendron, the library specialist, is a wonderful creator of magic herself. She has quickly transformed herself into the conductor on the Polar Express. Oh Boy, I can’t wait. Especially a time to wear my pj’s.

The library lights have been dimmed with sheeting overhead. White lights and silver snowflakes hang from the ceiling giving us the feeling of a cold snowy night as we take a seat on the benches that face a huge screen.  A fire roars in the background. We even get hats and our servers, her assistant, Ms. Wisdom, Ms. Kerfin, along with parent and grandparent helpers, pass out cups of hot chocolate. Each page of the book is highlighted on the big screen while being read by a screen reader. As the story proceeds, each student receives a string with Santa’s sleigh bell to take home. I got one too and we jiggled to make sure we could all hear them ring. One kindergarten boy told the staff that this was the best day of his life. Mine too.

If you want to take a ride on a public Polar Express, Rail Events Productions announces service on board THE POLAR EXPRESS™ Train Ride at Chicago Union Station this holiday season. Groups of 20 or more are eligible for a 10% discount which must be booked over the phone at (312) 471-2501.  The fun doesn’t end on Christmas. Use promo code 12DAYS for $12 off tickets on any train Dec. 26-Jan 1!

However,though many schools and neighborhoods are offering the Polar Express experience, not much can top the magnificent event of listening and watching the Polar Express book at Elizabeth Ide School.  Even better than with my own children.

And when I got home, I could still hear my library Polar Express sleigh bell ring!!!

 

The little engine that could

I think I can….I can…I can. The values of today as well as yesteryear have not changed. Because the boys and girls are still reading the little engine that could. Some are still reading the original that was published in 1930 stressing optimism and hard work.

This was also a book that encouraged me to become a better reader. Reading was a struggle in first and second grades but it was the little engine that could that told me I could do this too. And I did…I did.

I began to think about the little engine while watching a student in my class follow the words being read out loud on his starfall iPad reading app. But this was a tale of two little engines that together, they could do it. The book talks about the  little red engine who trys and trys while a similar blue little engine helps push the cars of toys over the mountain. Other engines also pass them by.  This version focuses on true teamwork.

The student was excited about the story adding the types of childhood inflection repeating words as I did decades ago. He read it over and over in class. The same week that I noticed him become entranced in little engines, another student selected a book from the wide variety in the classroom. The original Little Engine that could.

And she did the same with the small, hard copy book. She decided to read it outloud while others listened. Later that day we had an assembly with a few members from the Kane county cougar team supporting are reading program.  Once again, one baseball player said that his favorite book was …guess what? Three times. … a charm.

So, of course, after school that same day, I went to the community library. I had saved many of my childhood favorites in a bookcase at home but not this one. There were many editions of the book as I discovered through the digital card catalog  including , a DVD, and a movie. But copies were checked out and the librarian said that it was always like that with The Little Engine That Could. Would I like The Little Engine That Could Gets a Check Up?

No, that is fine. I will just have the students read to me the copies at the school I assist,  whenever I need to be reminded of my childhood..my beginnings of academic success. Whenever I need to know,today, that I still can!

 

 

 

 

 

Shoe box of memories

Andrea gazed out the window as the first snow fell, blanketing the ground with its grace.  It was Christmas Eve and any other year she would be jumping for joy at this wondrous sight.  Andrea and her Dad would try to build a snowman or sprinkle reindeer food with dashes of glitter scattered about so that Santa’s sleigh could find the food easily.

Those moments were only memories now.  Her father had passed away the day after Christmas one year ago.  As she cried herself to sleep many times in the past year, she tried to hold on to his embrace and the image of his gentle face.  Her loneliness had continued to grow rather than subside.

Especially now.

Andrea wanted to stop the arrival of Christmas Day unless it could bring her father back to life!  No other gift could be greater than his self-assuring presence and constant love for her.

Her mother tried to create the excitement of past holidays by continuing family traditions.  Beautifully wrapped packages sat under a balsam tree decorated with favorite ornaments and twinkling lights.  Homemade dressing was being prepared for a feast of all feasts.

Yet, none of these holiday trimmings seemed to fill the gap and make Andrea whole once more.

Fortunately, she had her shoebox.  It was neatly decorated with hearts of many colors and golden stars.  Beneath the cover, photographs, travel brochures, post cards including a trip to Niagara Falls, a broken wrist watch, a tie clip and other treasures symbolizing her father’s life filled the container as well as the barren spot in her heart.

Tonight, it was time, time for Andrea to feel safe, secure and loved.  So, she went to her dresser drawer and carefully pulled the box from it’s’ place, cradling it like a baby in her arms.  After many minutes, she spread the contents of the box on the floor to be touched, read and admired.

She felt close to him now.

But on the floor nestled in her collection was an advertising card that Andrea had not seen before.  It was a rectangle in blue and advertised the top automobile glass companies with their phone numbers and addresses on it. Maybe her Mom had found it somewhere and put it in her box for safekeeping.

The third company on the card was her father’s “Glass Sales and Service” and beside the name, his familiar phone number.  Andrea couldn’t even begin to count the number of times that she had dialed that number, anxious to share her accomplishments at school or simply to tell him “yes, it had been a good day.” On Saturdays, her Dad would take her to his shop and she would spin around in his office chair and he would always take her to lunch for a hamburger and chocolate shake.

After he passed away, her mother had sold the business and the new owners changed its name, requesting a new phone number.  Had that number which offered Andrea private words of concern with her father been disconnected forever?

Maybe it had been issued to another business or home for those to share similar conversations as Andrea had experienced.

Andrea was tired, tired of missing her father, tired of the queasiness in her stomach, tired of feeling so alone. With her shoebox, she decided to lie down just for a minute and climbed into her bed. She was asleep in an instant and the dream began.

A voice, deep within, had prompted Andrea to find out about her father’s old phone number.  Why, she didn’t know, but, still the whisper of the unknown urged her on.

Cautiously, she picked up the receiver and dialed the number…

There seemed to be a connection!  The number had not been discontinued after all!

After two rings, a voice responded.

“Good evening, Glass Sales and Service,” followed by a brief pause, “Hello, Andrea.”

The voice was distant and almost inaudible due to crackling on the line but there was no question whom the voice belonged to.

“Dad?” she stammered, her throat parched, her heart throbbing as she shut her eyes quickly, hoping to hear a response over the pounding in her chest.

“Yes, Sweetheart,” her father said calmly and deliberately.

Andrea could not believe what was happening or how and why.  All she knew is that her father was finally here.  Tears of joy began to flow freely down her face, “Dad, are you really alive?” she asked.  There was a pause that seemed endless.

“Andrea, I cannot come back to the life as you know it.  But…..”

“No! It wasn’t true!  Andrea had been dreaming, a long and dreadful dream this year.  He was really coming home soon and……..

“What you are hearing, Andrea is the voice of your heart, my spirit that will always be there.”     She was so confused and at a complete loss for words.  Though buried within her soul, Andrea knew he was right.  His funeral had been too vivid, too horribly real and that indistinguishable voice inside of her convinced her that death was final, final in the physical way.

He did not wait for her reaction because he knew it would be too difficult for her to understand.  So, he continued.

“Regardless of where I am today, death cannot tear us apart.  If you believe in the importance of your life and look inside your heart, you will always find me waiting.  Waiting to guide you through problems and loving you as you are and will be.  Don’t ever lose hope for what is hidden in your heart.  Just open it, Andrea, like you do with your shoebox of memories and you know what, if you listen carefully, you can hear the angels……………..”

Static drowned his words.

“Dad, I love you…….”  Her voice suddenly dropped dramatically, “Dad, are you there?”

Within seconds, she heard a click followed by a dial tone.  He was gone.

Instantly, Andrea dialed the number again.  It began to ring and suddenly she heard, “I am sorry, that number has been disconnected.”

She opened her eyes and her body was shaking with emotional exhaustion.  Shock trembled through her, but somehow, she felt a peace that she had not experienced for a long time. She did not have that feeling of nausea. She had heard stories about dreams being much more than someone’s imagination working overtime. Was that it or had she really received a message from her Dad that everything would be ok?

Peace had found a place in her heart that had been barren.  She truly believed her father’s words and she knew life could go on in her world as well as his.

She heard her Mom call so she made her way to the bathroom to wash her tear-stained face.  She glanced at her reflection in the mirror above the sink and smiled.  She not only saw her own features but the wonderful love of her father standing behind her.  And as her Mom called once again, she thought she heard other voices as well.

“If you listen carefully, you can hear the angels……..sing.