Hmm, where to start...
I received a call around 8 pm tonight. An "older" acquaintance of mine has passed on. His name is John Tobin. I received an email earlier in the day saying that he had been admitted to the hospital with advanced pneumonia. I knew it wouldn't be long. He had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's some years back. The last time I had heard anything about him was a little over a year ago. He didn't recognize anyone.
I first met John through another close friend of mine, Dylan. John was Dylan's seventh grade teacher "back in the day". We were all model railroaders then. Dylan had learned that "Toby" had a layout in his basement. Dylan had a 4 x 6, and I had a single loco that I ran at his place. I remember the day that Toby broke down and let Dylan in to see his layout. His exact quote to me was "I smell trains!". About a half year later, I was admitted in as well.
Over the years, the two of us were treated to all that John knew about the hobby. What were the differences in brands. Horn hook couplers verses Kadees. Tyco verses Athearn. Kato verses Bachmann. And brass track verses nickel silver. And we learned the duller sides of the hobby too. Track cleaning, cork roadbed shifting, and knocking your head on too many duck-unders. But most of all, I remember the tremendous fun we had in a dark damp basement in Chicago.
But time marches on. The yuppies were advancing on Toby's neighborhood. He and his wife were both retired by then, so a family decision was made to sell the brownstone they owned and move to smaller digs. John had thoughtfully made a video of the old layout, and took tons of pictures over the years. Dylan was offered what I considered a prize centerpiece of that old layout. A double track arched truss bridge. When I was first there, it went across the two foot isle between the layout. I loved watching the trains cross it. I got a few boxcars, and an AHM "Big Boy".
But the signs of age were starting to show on John. Even though the new basement was just half the size, the layout framework never did go together right in his own mind. The last time I was there, it was just framework, no track. And finally, my wife and I moved to Michigan. So I never did see if the layout got completed. About five years ago, I saw Toby for my last time. I was down to Illinois to celebrate Dylan's 40th birthday. John thought of just about everything. Get together with the old train buddies at another friends home layout. Beer. Cake. And reminiscing about the "good old days". The ironic thing was that Toby almost got lost coming to the meet.
Dylan had been the one that had emailed me. And tonight, when he called to say that Toby was gone, his voice was so audibly shaken. He didn't grieve this much when his folks passed away. But I knew he did grieve. He just hid it better.
So now, I sit here, with a gin and tea next to me. And reminisce. And think about that bridge that Dylan still has. And I'm sure will never part with until his own demise.
I raise my glass in a toast: Here's to you John.
Don't knock your head on the duck-unders on God's model railroad.
Rest in Peace.