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By Anna Belle Kaufman
Going, Going, Gone
A young boy finds his Charon for the final journey
My boy's passion for trains began with a picture book. A gift for his second birthday, it was a simple story of a train's passage through tunnels, over bridges, under the night sky, and it ended with the words "Going, going, gone." I remember finding the book after he'd died, rereading it, and feeling the hairs on my neck prickle when I came to the end.
Because he loved trains above all else, I found myself one warm summer evening seated by the tracks of a one-eighth-scale railroad nestled close to the hills of Griffith Park, surrounded by geezers in striped overalls and engineer hats. I was the only female present, at 34 by far the youngest, and the only one at the club meeting of the Los Angeles Live Steamers who didn't have my own miniature diesel or steam locomotive tucked away in the metal shed. We'd discovered this haven for train enthusiasts one Sunday, when rides were being offered to the public. Zack, almost 3, was enthralled by the two miles of looping track and the miniature towns, bridges, and tunnels, all built by the members, including Walt Disney, one of the first.
Wanting Zack to have access to more than the occasional ride, I joined the club and arrived at the meeting hoping to connect with someone who'd invite him to climb aboard. I remember looking around and asking myself "What's a nice Jewish girl like me doing in a place like this?" and laughing at the things we do for our children. I didn't befriend anyone that night. But when I returned with Zack the following Saturday, his usual charm and ebullience found us an engineer on our first ride.
His friend P.J. was the oldest geezer there—a tall, tanned, rangy man, with a paunch hanging over jeans held up with red suspenders, a red kerchief flapping from the back pocket. His manner tilted toward gruff—he made no effort to charm children—but he and Zack were there to share an activity and a mutual love, not conversation. We spent so many hours sitting behind him on his little orange diesel that the brown wrinkles on the back of his neck became as familiar to me as an old map.