I loved my mother’s father. My grandfather was born and raised in Switzerland and had been a missionary to the Philippines during the Second World War. But to a young boy, what was most important was that he took time with me. He told me stories and made me feel important. I didn’t get to see him more than a few times a year because he and my grandmother lived in Maryville, Tennessee. When I did see him though there was always a warm hug, great interest in what I was doing, and stories.
Some of the stories he told me were of events from his childhood – like watching the first auto race come through Switzerland. Because he was Swiss-German my sister and I called him “Grossvater” which translates to “Grandfather.” He was born before 1900, so he had seen a lot. But often his stories were about his family and how I might be so much like the family he grew up with back home. Sometimes he would have old photographs, but most of the time the images just came from his words.
He knew I loved trains and one time he told me about his brother, or cousin, or uncle. Unfortunately I can’t remember. But I remember him telling me about how this person loved trains also and built lots of models and had them both inside and outside of his house. This was one of the times he showed me a picture, but even better than that he had two of the models! I don’t recall if this was right after one of his trips back to visit Switzerland or something. All I remember is that he gave me, a young boy, the two small buildings. One a house and one a mill with water wheel on the side.
I loved him, I loved those buildings, and I loved my trains. Sadly over the years I lost all of them. My grandfather passed away while I was in college. I still miss him. I don’t know what happened to the buildings. All the rest of my model trains got sold or given away over the years.
Let’s fast forward now! Oh, nearly 30 years. Today I am, as my wife would say, trying to reclaim some of my youth. I have started playing with model trains again. One of the things that makes this fun is that my son loves it too. He is fifteen and we have a great time going to train shows, model exhibits, and shops.
This past weekend I went to train show here in town and amongst all the other treasures was a collection of “stuff” brought in from an out-of-town dealer. It was in a scale (size) that most of the people there didn’t care about and most of the items were a bit rough around the edges. My son loved the collection instantly. I looked at the odd collection and was interested, but it was all more modern American trains (I model earlier British steam or turn-of-the-century American trolleys) and I was hesitant. But my son was insistent, my wife was not present, and the dealer finally practically gave me the items. Most probably because his wife was present!
After everything was back home my son and I pulled things out and were looking through them. Oddly enough, and much to my surprise, amongst all the modern American buildings I found a small farmhouse – a European farmhouse. Very, very much like the one my grandfather had given me. I thought it was cool, unusual but cool, showed my wife and daughter and son, and told them my story. Wow.
Today I was going more thoroughly through the buildings. I was alone in my office just looking through them all when I pulled out another European buildings. I turned around and realized it was a mill with water wheel on the side. I spun the wheel. Instantly my mind flashed back because it made a rubbing sound as the wheel turned that I had not heard for over 30 years. No, couldn’t be my old one, but it must have been the same model. I held it for a long time, thought about my grandfather and thought about the years. I set the two Swiss-German looking buildings side-by-side and reminisced. And told my wife, and she thought it was a cute story.
Finally I was pulling the last few buildings out tonight. I arranged a few, looked at the neat old American railroad station, set up the little mill, and then pulled out the freight station. No, it was not European, but the city name on it stopped me cold. It said “Maryville“.
My wife just smiled, “tell your grandfather ‘hello’.” I am glad you are still with me Grosvatter, I love you too.