The Shelf Over the Washer
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Our basement was a disaster. My wife and I could never seem to find anything down there and it was getting to me. With a few hours to spare, I resolved to get the place clean.

I started in the corner nearest the stairs where the washer and dryer sit. I imagined that a quick wipe with a paper towel and some Windex would be sufficient, but itís amazing how dirty those things get. Fifteen minutes later I was still washing, sweeping, extracting forgotten socks from crevices. Then I decided to do the shelf.

It was high above the washer and dryer, a board measuring one by three feet, and it was designed to hold detergent and fabric softener. But as I began to haul everything down, I found much more than that:

  • The lid to our old Diaper Genie. Where the rest of it is I havenít a clue, but this remarkable invention saw us through two babyhoods.

  • Seventy-four cents in dimes, nickels and pennies. Mysteriously, no quarters.

  • Two Lego pieces, a flat yellow rectangle and a chunky blue square. My kids still play with Legos.

  • The part of a coatís zipper you grab to pull. I guess I pulled too hard.

  • Masking tape. Hey, I was looking for that! Same with the vacuum cleaner bags.

  • The business card for my wifeís physical therapist. She last saw him about three years ago.

  • A little girlís silver plastic hair barrette. My daughter has a huge collection of these things, often found strewn across the bathroom counter. This one never made it back.

  • A small, square Girl Scouts pin showing a penguin building a snowman.

  • Lots of nondescript pieces of old toys, bolts, screws, play jewelry and the oddest-looking buttons Iíve ever seen. I put all the stuff in a box and was about to spray the shelf with cleaner when I saw the little red train ticket. And a strange melancholy crept over me as I remembered.

    My daughter was only two and my son a six-month-old about to experience his first Christmas. I had heard about this train trip on the radio Ė Santa would be on it Ė and it would take us ten miles out from East Concord and back. On a cold December afternoon, we all boarded the Granite State Railroad. Sarah was very excited and bounced from seat to seat. Baby Kevin just sat in his motherís lap, wide-eyed, taking it all in. The train began to move.

    I glanced around; we were just about the only passengers. It wasnít the exactly the Polar Express, but we enjoyed the motion and scenery and didnít wonder too much where Santa was.

    Finally the great man appeared, walked down the aisle past us and settled into a back seat. We all went back there and Santa, a kind and gentle old soul, chatted pleasantly with both kids in turn. There was plenty of time. Sarah enjoyed her visit and Kevin basically stared, but we all had fun. My wife snapped several photographs.

    The train turned around; we chugged back home. Santa shook our hands warmly as he left our car. We wished him a Merry Christmas. My little ones soon became drowsy and I leaned back, watching them as the glow of the season and this happy time washed over me. I pulled out my little red ticket, glanced at it, and stuffed it in my pocket.

    Seven years later I found it while cleaning the shelf over the washer.

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