To be fair, Grandpop was right. My genetic predisposition for conniving would rear its ugly head whenever my little brother and I would visit. Want to see raw Darwinism play out between siblings? Give them a toy train set. And not just any old train set. Grandpop’s family room walls were bedecked in brightly colored train cars and peppered with black engines. The custom shelves held one car or engine per space, so not an inch was wasted, floor to ceiling. The room was host to one colossal train table, a child’s glory, a grandparent’s nightmare.
The table had a whole city laid out upon it, complete with an ice mill that moved the blocks along a conveyor belt, a sawmill that cut the trees into lumber, a pharmacy, a church, multiple glittering storefronts, neighborhoods, a fire station, even a little dog that peed on the hydrant as he circled round it (my personal favorite). Three tracks of varying sizes went around the periphery. Perfect for racing, but Grandpop did not allow his trains to be raced.
Connivers don’t much care for what’s allowed.
When Grandpop wasn’t looking we’d set objects on the tracks and try to pick them up again before the train ran them down. Sometimes we were successful. There was a certain number on the speed control, the number at which the train had to run, said Grandpop. That is the place it will never stay, said the conniver.
I didn’t understand centrifugal force back then. I only knew that taking the turns above that number derailed the train, every time. The jagged sound of metal on metal and the absence of running train would bring Grandpop running. His automatic response to train calamities was a sort of minced oath: Galddarnert, spoken with lots of phlegm, just that one word. Then he would set the trains back to running again, a job too complex for our clumsy child fingers.
Stephen J. Seyer met three of his great grandchildren before he died. The last, Luke Stephen Griffiths, I named in his honor. At Grandpop’s funeral I mentioned his beloved trains. I saw them as a metaphor for life. Only now that my own fingers are old enough to right the calamities caused by conniving little fingers, do I see the man.