Gabe loved trains. A large portion of our basement was taken up by a huge train set. He and my Dad would go down there and spend hours together. They built mountains, and made little trees. They arranged the track just so. There would be Gabe with his conductors hat on and my Dad standing right beside him for hours. It really was beautiful.
When the Polar Express movie came out Gabe was thrilled. This movie combined two of his most favourite things, trains and Christmas. Christopher bundled up Gabe and Grace and took them to see the Polar Express. It was a special time for them because at that time Riley and Rowan were only 5 months old. Learning how to deal with twins was a slow and difficult process. Our minutes were stolen by the two most demanding family members. That left little time for the two big kids. We felt guilty, but we were in survival mode. A special night out with just Daddy (and no crying babies to steal their attention) made this a very special gift. At the time we did not know just how special this movie would be to us. It was the very last movie that our Gabe would ever see.
The beauty of that movie and the bittersweet memories that it brings have a very special place in our hearts. We watch it every single year. Every time I watch it I sit with this contented smile, because for the length of that movie I have my Gabe. I have no sadness. I think about what a beautiful soul he was, and how much he loved trains and that movie.
A while back we discovered that several scenic railways were running "Polar Express" rides. We were over the moon with joy. We booked our ride in Utica New York. We loved it. We decided that we would like to visit as many Polar Express train rides as we could drive to.
This year we visited Saratoga Springs Scenic Railway in Saratoga Springs, New York. We did not know what to expect. The trip adviser had given it terrible reviews and so we were slightly guardedly cautious. We arrived to see a beautifully decorated train station, that was a plus.
We had arrived with not a minute to spare. We boarded the train immediately. Up the narrow staircase we climbed to the top of the train. The rounded windows were decorated with Christmas lights and evergreens. Seated in the warm Christmas light were dozens of pajama clad children who were sitting with their equally excited family members. You could physically feel the Christmas spirit. We walked down the narrow isle, breathing in the love. We were seated at two little tables.
The train was beautiful. On each table were stunning "Polar Express" mugs. They so over exceeded my expectations. The train began it's comforting sway down the track the soundtrack to the Polar Express played throughout the train. I looked around the train at all of the bright and hopeful faces. My eyes then settled in on my kids. Their little faces were glowing with excitement. Rowan just sat there mesmerized by the view from the train window, a serene look on his little face. This is what it is all about.
Over the train speakers the "Hot Chocolate" song from the movie came on. Ladies dressed in white with white chef hats danced up the isle. They soon reappeared with silver teapots filled with rich chocolately goodness. It was honestly one of the best cups of hot chocolate that I have ever had, and I am really picky. We all sat sipping hot chocolate, enjoying our surroundings, I was taking mental pictures trying to capture this moment in time for the rest of my life. It was the stuff of dreams. That sounds overly dramatic, but it truly was magical.
After the ladies came around with our hot chocolate and cookies, the conductor made his rounds "Tickets please". He punched every child's ticket and shaped the punch in the first letter of their name. My guys were just glowing. It was truly like being "in" the movie.
An announcement came overhead that we were arriving at the North Pole. The little people (and the not so little people) all ran to the window to see. A brightly lit little village complete with elves in the windows appeared out of the window. This was such a beautiful night.
Shortly after the trip to the North Pole, Santa appeared. He walked around the train and spoke to each child, stopping for pictures. He then handed each child a Christmas bell, engraved with the words "Polar Express". The children were all in awe, they were in the presence of greatness.
All too soon our trip on the Polar Express came to an end. It was everything I thought that it could be and more. We were making memories, not just for the kids, but for ourselves. I walked away my soul a little more full, a smile on my face. That was a beautiful night.