Christmas Race Track
There is the farmhouse. It is warm and old and the nighttime shadows shift in my peripheral vision. I turn quickly but never see what slips around the corner. There is the living room with worn carpet. There is the kitchen, and the mudroom, and beyond that, outside, the field the bull lives in. The church and cemetery across the street. There is the small dining room with its hardwood floor and its solemn door that leads into the other half of the house, the side that is empty and silent.
My family lived on that farm from the time I was six until I was eleven, the most glorious and adventurous time of my childhood. I spent my summers there riding bike around the barns, fishing the Pequea Creek, and hiding in the cemetery across the street. Summer turned to fall: burning leaves and cold nights and frost on the panes. The green faded. Brown settled in. The bare branches scraped together.
Then, the smell of snow. Ice over the puddles. Christmas.
During one particular Christmas I remember receiving three gifts: a metallic globe that sat on a small, plastic stand I accidentally broke (this led to the world rolling through our house from time to time); a digital alarm clock, which meant I could now wake up as early as I wanted and read books before bus #5 picked me up at the end of our long farm lane; and, finally, a race track.
It was the thing I had always wanted: an electric race track with two grand prix cars controlled by two, pistol-shaped controllers. My dad helped me set up the track that Christmas morning, and it was huge. Expansive. Took up half the floor in our small dining room. I laid belly-down on the cold hardwood floor and raced those cars around the track over and over again. The guard rails glowed in the dark. The small motor on the bottom of each car smelled hot – we would put a small dab of oil on the spinning engine to try to cool it down. If I took the corners too fast, the cars skidded off the track, flying across the floor.
I kept the track up for a few weeks, then disassembled it, packed it into a box, and stored it in the attic.
Unpacking it became a Christmas tradition. My dad brought the box down on Christmas Eve and we would carefully put it together again, clicking the tracks into place, testing the cars. And for many years, if I woke up on Christmas morning before my parents, I would lay down on the cool dining room floor and race those cars around the track.
I don’t remember exactly which Christmas was the one we didn’t bring out the race track. Did I feel I had outgrown it? Had we misplaced it? Was it simply overlooked?
I wonder if my parents still have it, tucked away in a box somewhere. It wouldn’t surprise me if they did. I wonder if the cars would still charge around the track, if they’d smell hot after a few laps. I wonder if it would be as amazing as I remember it.
Sometimes, though, things like my old race track aren’t meant to be found. Sometimes, the memories that surround the object, and not the thing itself, become the beautiful parts of a life.
More about The Day the Angels Fell
It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened.
After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to bring her back. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Sam begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Sam to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?
Haunting and hypnotic, The Day the Angels Fell explores the difficult questions of life in a voice that is fresh, friendly, and unafraid. With this powerful story, Shawn Smucker has carved out a spot for himself in the tradition of authors Madeleine L’Engle and Lois Lowry.
Shawn Smucker is an author, blogger, and co-writer who lives in Lancaster, PA, with his wife and six children. His first novel, The Day the Angels Fell, explores the question of whether it might be possible that death is a gift.