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Choo-choo, pang-pang

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THE special 37-page catalog of Christmas toy bargains arrived (batteries not included) and I studied it in vain for rapport with my glad old days when I was a forward-looking likely recipient. Christmas, I find, is no longer for the Old Boys. There wasn't a choo-choo in all 37 pages. It came to me with a pang-pang that today's youngster doesn't go for a choo-choo because he doesn't know what a choo-choo is.

I've heard talk of keeping Amtrak active, but out here in the sticks Amtrak means nothing, and daresay there isn't a kid in town ever rode a train. The freights that remain of our old railroad are just putting in their lackadaisical time until their petition to abandon gets approved. Besides, today's trains don't choo-choo anyway.

How good it was to long for a toy train back when we'd line up by the crossing shanty and watch Mr. Buck lower the gates for the Halifax Express! Mr. Buck would say, ``Now stand well back, for the suction might draw ye under!'' Then the Halifax Express would howl past, its chime whistle peeling paint off buildings. A train like the Halifax Express, when it started up, would huff and puff and churn, and go ``Choo! Choo! Choo!'' So if a lucky boy got a toy train for Christmas -- cast-iron and no tracks --

he would push it about the living-room floor and say choo-choo-choo.

So I was intrigued by a toy in this catalog that is called a ``voice changer,'' $7.97 -- batteries not included. It changes a tot's voice so he sounds like a robot. Shall we skip, in compassion, all thoughts as to what a robot sounds like when it goes, ``Choo! Choo!''?

The great variety of frivolous toys (batteries not included) in this catalog ignores the old-time belief that gifts should be ``useful'' and ``sensible.'' I resurrect, accordingly, the summer I noticed what a great many mittens Aunt Lucy was knitting. One day she would be doing some red ones, and when I asked who would get them she drew me aside, looked about for eavesdroppers, and said, ``Sister Louise, but it's a secret -- don't tell!'' Then another day the yarn would be blue, and she'd say, ``For Tom

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