Even though the railroad tracks through Citronelle have long since been taken up, once a year the Train still rolls through town. It is a phenomenon I’ve heard about for years from Mama’s friend Annie Bell. You see, the Train stops at her house, just like it stopped at her mother’s house, every Christmas morning.
This isn’t any ordinary rail line. The Train is what locals call a group of men who gather early on Christmas morning and travel from the northeast side of Citronelle down three miles or so to the community known as Russell. There might be eight merrymakers or there might be twenty. It depends on the year, the weather, and who all is in town. As the Train rolls along, they stop at various houses spreading Christmas cheer.
Every host along the route waits for the Train’s arrival with great anticipation. It’s a big honor, Annie Bell says, to be a Train stop. The visitors are offered specially prepared holiday refreshments, and everyone enjoys a light repast. A slice of ham here. A piece of pound cake there. A cup of coffee. Maybe something a little stronger. Maybe not. As with any train, new folks join in and others drop off as they make their southbound journey through town. And although the stops only last a little while, they are plenty long enough for a happy word, a hug, a handshake, a little libation, and a lot of goodwill and laughter.
The Train doesn’t bring presents. It’s no sleigh, after all. What this train delivers is a group of people who enjoy each other’s company, who take the time to actually show up and let their friends and loved ones know how much they matter. No quick text. No e-card. No tweet. Only the true spirit of Christmas, live and in person.
Now no one knows how long The Train has gone on. No one knows how it started. Annie’s brother, who is ninety, says he remembers being too young to go. The Train just is and always has been. Riders have come, riders have gone, and the stops have changed, passing down through several generations now. But one thing remains the same — the Train still rolls merrily along every Christmas morning.
Thank you all for reading my stories this year, for sharing yours, and for your never-ending support and encouragement. I wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.