(Hank Rawlings loves his tractors and his Granddaddy & Uncle Bill, too)
“Old toy trains, little toy tracks
Little boy toys, comin’ from a sack
Carried by a man dressed in white and red
Little boy don’t you think it?s time you where in bed?
“Close your eyes, listen to the skies
All is calm, all is well
Soon you’ll hear Kris Kringle and the jingle bells
“Bringin’ old toy trains, little toy tracks
Little boy toys, comin’ form a sack
Carried by a man dressed in white and red
Little boy don’t you think it?s time you where in bed?
“Close your eyes, listen to the skies
All is calm, all is well…”
— Lyrics to “Old Toy Trains,” written and sung by Roger Miller
I can still remember that Christmas Eve from so very long ago. Had to be about 58, 59, maybe 60 years since. But I still recall it with such clarity and vivid detail that it must have been a very special night. It had to be my “Silent Night.”
That night — the night — just had to be profound. Why else would this real-life dream pop back into my memory bank just like that traditional, Classic, Holy Christmas song at this time of year. You may not hear the melody for a full calendar year, but as soon as it turns November, you begin to hum it; you begin to relive it. You begin to sing it in heart and soul, even if not aloud. Such is this memory. Every year at this time of year. It comes home and warms me like a cup of cheer.
You see, on this night, I somehow convinced my mom that I should stay up with her until my dad got home from work. At the time, my dad was a security watchman at the peanut butter plant in Lexington, which was owned by Mr. W. T. Young. (The man who later went on to own Overbrook Farm and the great Storm Cat. But we digress.) And, it just so happened to be, that on this Christmas Eve he was assigned to work third shift. From midnight to morn. From dark to light. From the time Santa started his world-wide tour all the way until he returned to the North Pole. From Christmas Eve to Christmas morn.
So, with a long night ahead of us, my mom and I built a little pallet on our couch in the living room. Turned on our black & white TV set — which was situated in the opposite corner of the cold room. And, I climbed into my spot, covers pulled to the chin, determined to wait up until I saw him again.
My mom, who always seemed to have chores to do, set up her ironing board. She brought in a load of clothes. And, she began to hum and lowly sing, while she put a warm crease in our modest belongings — all the way from the tighty whites to the shirts and pants. Always loved getting those sweat shirts right off the board. Warmed the heart, right down to the soul.
For awhile, mom and I chatted. She asked me what I thought Santa might bring. I went through my laundry list just as she made her way through our laundry, too. I remember asking for this; and requesting that. I talked about this toy soldier set that I had seen at Skippy Rouse’s country store, which was located on Railroad Street in my hometown of Midway, KY. I talked about how much I wanted that, to be sure. And, I remember saying that I just hoped that Santa would bring home by Dad, too, so we could have Christmas together. As a family.
The conversation and the “list” must have been like counting sheep. I don’t remember what time of night it was when I drifted from reality to dream, but I remember that the TV was still buzzing in the background, and, during those years, the networks quit broadcasting after the late-night news. There was no cable back then. At midnight, the “National Anthem” would play and then, suddenly, the picture would just turn to “snow.”
That was OK, too. Snow — the real stuff — was what I was hoping to be on the ground the next morning, too. Suffice to say, I didn’t complete my mission of staying up all night to welcome Dad home. Somehow gravity took over and eye lid met eye lash. Lights out.
 But that was OK, too. When I awoke, saw my puppy — Sally — dancing around the living room like Mary Poppins with a magical umbrella. I looked around and saw that our living room had magically, mysteriously been transformed into a toy store.
There was a train set, with the locomotive tugging eight “cars” around in a circle. Smoke — real smoke — was coming out of the engine’s chimney.
There was my toy soldier set. The little men all set up and protecting the perimeter. Santa must have stopped at Skippy’s.
There was this shinny, white, Tonka truck just waiting for a little boy to test it out. It had bright red “gates” that went on the flat-bed. There was a “Cattle” sign on both the doors, that fully operated. And, there was a green horse trailer that you could hitch to the back. Everywhere that truck went, that trailer was hitched. I can assure you.
There was my sister’s brand new, blue, shiny and sparkling Schwinn bicycle. Had a couple of baskets attached. And, there was my Sis’ new record player with one of Elvis’ best .45s ready to launch.
And, there was my Dad, still in full uniform. He was standing in the middle of it all of the chaos. Dog jumping. Mom bringing him breakfast. Sis screaming. (Maybe it was a Beatles’ record on the player? LOL.) And, me, still looking in amazement and tugging on his pant’s leg. I wanted him to pick me up. I wanted to hug him.
After all, of all the things that Santa had brought home that night that I was supposed to be awake, it was Dad that I cherished the most; that I wanted the most; that I wanted to stay up and see the most.
But, you see, my Dad rarely picked me up. Hugs really were not much of an option. Public displays of emotion were not the norm. Back then, it wasn’t much of a thing for grown men to do. Guess that some man, in all their infinite wisdom, thought it was not the “manly” thing to do. So most men didn’t do it. Emotional issues were left up to Mom, along with the cooking; the cleaning; the folding; and so many other things. Like the ironing.
And, on this Christmas morn, my Dad didn’t do it, either. Oh, he did reach over and rub my head. He laughed. He smiled. In just a few seconds, he took a knee and he taught me how to turn on train’s transformer and moderate the speeding locomotive’s speed with a silver lever. I played with that train every morning for years to come.
He turned his attention to the soldiers and asked me who was my favorite. He showed me how to hook up the horse trailer to my Tonka truck. Everywhere that truck went, that trailer was hitched. I can assure you.
In his own way, I am convinced he tried to say “I love you” by his actions, because the words just didn’t become words. It was a different time. There were different “rules.” And, this must have been one of the “Golden” ones.
After breakfast was served, mom retreated to the kitchen. Cleaning up the dishes was one of her jobs, too. Dad retreated to his bedroom. It was time for him to try and sleep, and he was a very light sleeper. Sis retreated to her room, and very quietly listened to why Elvins was nothing but a “Hound Dog.” Never really understood that song until much later in life. Then, I understood.
And, I set up shop right outside Dad’s room. And, waited. And, played. Couldn’t run the train. It made too much noise. But I could play with my shinny, white Tonka truck, with the green horse trailer. Everywhere that truck went, that trailer was hitched. I can assure you.
This past summer, while we were at our Lake House, I was caught a little off guard and a little by surprise when I looked up from my morning stupor, and saw my 4-year-old nephew, Hank Rawlings, playing in the floor. All my himself. Just talking away. Just playing away. Happy as a lark. Happy as a little boy with his toys.
He had an entire farm equipment store laid out in front of him. A green John Deere tractor. A green John Deere combine. Another green John Deere tractor hooked to a plow. Another green John Deere tractor connected to a wagon.
Seemingly, the blonde-headed boy — with an imagination as big as a Texas ranch — loves John Deere.
I pulled up a chair, and while pretending to look at my phone, I listened very closely as a spy with a wire tap.
“Granddady what you going to do today,” Hank said, as he played with one tractor. “You going to sow beans or corn?”
Not waiting for an answer that was audible to us regular humans, Hank continued his conversation.

“I can go with you today. I can help. I am good at planting beans. Really good at beans.”
Hank moved the tractor this way and that way. And, he crawled to the other side of his play farm.
“Uncle Bill what you going to do today,” Hank said, as he played with one tractor. “You going to sow beans or corn?”
Not waiting for an answer that was audible to us regular humans, Hank continued his conversation.
“I can go with you today. I can help. I am good at planting corn. Really good at corn.”
This went on for awhile. A rather long while. Hank didn’t did a laptop to watch a movie. He didn’t need cartoons on TV. He really didn’t need another human to be listening in on his private conversation, either. He was happy.
All he needed was his Granddaddy and his Uncle Bill.
It wasn’t long before Hank’s “Granddaddy” — Johnny Sears — popped through the door of our home. Hank came on the dead run. Head first into the lap. Hugs and kisses fell like manta from heaven.
And, it wasn’t long before Hank and Johnny were in the floor playing “farm” together. They were going to plant both beans and corn. And, as things turn out sure enough, Hank was going to go along and help. After all, he is good at planting both beans and corn.
The whole, entire scene made me smile. Warmed my heart. Rewound the movie reels in my mind. And, although no one in the house noticed it, made me drop a tear or two, too.
Hank, you see, loves his tractors. Green ones, especially. John Deere ones, in particular.
He gets to go to Paducah on some occasions just to ride around the parking lot of the John Deere farm implement store and check on the new merchandize. He’s become such a regular that the dealer comes out and gives him a ride in the cab of the new trucks, from time to time.
On some days, he gets to take lunch to his Granddaddy in the fields. And, sometimes, when he is lucky, he gets to climb up in the tractor and take a turn or two around the farm.
One day, before the schools were locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hank was asked to sing along with the other kindergarten kids. He was asked to sign his favorite song. It was no surprise when he fully launched into his version of “John Deere Green.” And, he was not modest in blurting out the lyrics, that he knew from head to toe.
I don’t know if Hank will grow up to be a farmer like his Granddaddy and his Uncle Bill. I don’t know if he will love tractors later in life as much as he does now. I don’t know if he will stay in Lowes or move off to the city life. Nobody really knows.
As things turned out, I didn’t become a train engineer or a Tonka truck driver. I had enough trouble just loading the back of a truck and a wagon on “Hay Days.” As things turned out, I was much more comfortable behind a typewriter than under the hood of a truck.
But I do know this.
For years to come, I was hitched to my Dad just as close as my toy horse trailer was hitched to that shinny, white Tonka truck. Everywhere that man went, I went too. Or strained trying. I can assure you.
Although my life and my Dad’s were drastically different and we followed different roads and paths? I always tried my best to hitch my life to his living example. Although I failed, I tried my best. I always tried my best. I can assure you.
And, if I were a betting man (and I think you all can figure out that I am), I bet Hank will do the same. He may not follow in their footsteps, but I bet he follows their dreams. His family has planted good seeds. They are good at setting corn and beans. They are good at setting hopes, dreams, aspirations, and love, too.
I bet it produces great memories. I bet it produces great yields. I bet it produces fantastic results.
Hank is one lucky boy. His family loves him so.
I was one lucky boy. Before he passed about four years ago, my Dad told me he loved me. He told me what I already knew. But he found the words. He found the courage. He found his way.
I want my grandsons to be lucky, too. My Christmas promise. I want them to know how much I love them, all.
I kept my train set until last Christmas. It still works, mind you. Locomotive can still spit out smoke, if you drop the right little “drops” into the top of the chimney. The transformer that came with it still operates, too.
I kept that shinny, white Tonka truck — equipped with the red gates — and the horse trailer, too. A few dents in some places, but not the worse for wear. It still rolls perfectly.
But last Christmas, I gave those gifts to my grandsons, Ford and Jack, with the love that they were first given to me; and with the hope that someday that they will pass them along to theirs, as well.
But I have learned this.
The best gifts for our kids are not the toys.
The toys are just reasons for us to dream; for us to talk; for us to get in the floor and play; for us to get together; for us to connect.
The best gifts are the joys that come along with time spent; time shared; time sewed.
Thank God for kids.
Thank God for the joys.
“Old toy trains, little toy tracks
Little boy toys, comin’ from a sack
Carried by a man dressed in white and red
Little boy don’t you think it?s time you where in bed?
“Close your eyes, listen to the skies
All is calm, all is well
Soon you’ll hear Kris Kringle and the jingle bells
“Bringin’ old toy trains, little toy tracks
Little boy toys, comin’ form a sack
Carried by a man dressed in white and red
Little boy don’t you think it?s time you where in bed?
“Close your eyes, listen to the skies
All is calm, all is well…”