Monday, December 11, 2006

An Appalachian Christmas Story

There is no shortage of Christmas books. From the classic The Night Before Christmas to original stories about Santa and his reindeer, you could read a book every day in December, the 12 days of Christmas, continue to the Orthodox Christian Christmas observance, end at Epiphany, and you'd have many books left over. Some are excellent, some are fine, and some are just plain boring or strange.

Then, there are the very special Christmas books that can cause an adult's eyes to tear up or her/his voice catch when reading it with a child. Cynthia Rylant's Silver Packages is one that may just do that for you. Like quite a few of her books, the book reflects her West Virginia heritage.

We read about a Christmas train that visits Frankie's hometown. The Christmas train is something that every child anticipates every Christmas. A wealthy man had a car accident many years ago in this mountain town, and was cared for by the people in the community. Ever grateful, the man returns every Christmas on a train to toss packages to the waiting children. For some children, this is the only present they will receive.

Do you remember having your hopes set on one special gift for Christmas? A toy that was so special that if that's all you received, you would be happy? For Frankie, his special toy is a doctor's kit. He would love that more than anything.

If this were a lesser author, perhaps, the story would have ended with Frankie catching a package, opening it up, and discovering a whizz-bang doctor's kit.

Frankie never receives a doctor's kit from the Christmas train. He gets some neat gifts all right-a toy police car that lights up one year, a game another year. Oh, and some warm socks to protect him from the freezing cold, cozy mittens to keep his hands warm, and a scarf to warm his neck as well. This is a poor town (although that isn't dwelt upon), and a remote town, so goods are not easy to come by (which isn't dwelt upon at all as well).

When Frankie grows up, he moves away from his mountain town. He has received chances and opportunities, and he feels he owes a debt to his hometown. He moves back to the town. That first Christmas back, he watches the Christmas train roll through the town.

You remember what I said about eyes tearing up and voices catching? Ladies and gentlemen, *this* is when it happens. Aaaaah. What a beautiful story. I love it! You will too.

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