THOMAS... WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?
A beautiful and personal piece of writing by Reagan Wolf, entered for the SIF/RLT competition...
What does that name make you think about? Does it make you think about the Railway Series stories that a popular television series is based on? Does it make you think about your anger at a company that is being accused of using a franchise to leach money from our pockets? Or does it simply make you think of a famous little blue engine?
I think about all of this when I hear that name. But I also think of one other thing: myself. I'm not sure why, but I feel as though Thomas is one of the most important things in my life, discarding my friends and family, my Tamagotchis, and among other things.
I was born years ago, not saying what year though. I grew up watching Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends via VCR, and I became a little bit addicted. I had, and still have, way too many videos, and tons of ERTL and Learning Curve toys as well. My mom even told me a surprising story once. She said that one day, she thought I was deaf or had some mental disability because I wouldn't listen to her. So she took me to a child psychologist and he put a Thomas rain on the floor.
"Walk over the train," he said.
I didn't. Instead, I sat on the floor and played with it.
The man was surprised and started scribbling furiously on his clipboard, but my mom simply smiled and took Thomas away. She put a small plush Barney on the floor.
"Walk over the dinosaur," She said.
I did so, and then she gave me little Thomas back.
Following that very day, Thomas became a part of me. Whether I was reading a Thomas book, or watching TV, or playing SEGA, Thomas was there. In Kindergarten, when Season 4 had come out, I started taking paper from class and drew Thomas characters on them, and then I'd cut off the extra parts of the paper with scissors. Then I would take the drawing home and put it on my wall. I even forced my babysitter to watch "Cranky Bugs" with me.
In 1990-something, Mom and Dad were having argument about the computer. Mom was mad because dad wasn't letting her look at what he looks at only, and dad was yelling at mom because she has invading his privacy. In the end, dad got mad and got into his car and drove away. He didn't even tell me where he was going, he just said "Goodbye, be a good boy" and drove away. I was sad, depressed, and I wanted to cry. But instead I closed my red, watering eyes and sung the Island Song. To my astonishment, when I opened my eyes, Dad pulled into the driveway, walked into the house, apologized to mom and they made up. It was at that moment that I couldn't help but make Thomas part of my life. A fictitious character had comforted me when I was lost and depressed, and probably made dad come back.
Almost every summer, I'd go up to Buffalo, NY with my family to visit my grandmother (we caller her Grammy) and my grandfather (we call him Papa) who were both Holocaust survivors. In the middle of the vacation, Grammy would take me to a local hobby store with a nearly life-sized poster of Thomas (located next to a real life caboose) and I was allowed to buy one Thomas train. And it is still a tradition we have kept over many, many years. Also one day before the first day of school, I'd leave my Thomas trains out to see if some magic Thomas fairy would come and leave me a message. It did.
In late 1999, Grammy bought a book called The Railway Series, the Complete Collection. It had all 26 of Wilbert Awdry's books. I had never had the chance to read all 26 books, having only read the first four, and was very eager to read it. The beginning had a letter from Wilbert himself, and one particular part of it, Wilbert stated that he got lots of fanmail, and it said:
"In my study at home I have a thick heavy file which I prize highly. It is full of letters. They are from children, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts ad uncles who have written to me over the years to say how much they and their children enjoy the books. I prize these highly, of course; but there are some I value even more. They are letters from fathers and grandfathers who are or have been professional railwaymen, saying that they too like the books. To quote one of them: '…your background knowledge of railways is so good that yours are the only books about railways which I can read to my children without squirming inside! I myself know of many odd incidents which have happened just as you describe them in your stories…' That is praise indeed!"
And thus, I continued on with the book. I was surprised on how many stories and characters never hade it to the TV screen, and the fact that Henry was once painted blue, and that Toby has blue side plates. Around the middle of the book, I got a goal in life: to meat the man who wrote these fabulous stories. But by the end of the book, after Book 26, it had 4 pages of a short biography of Wilber Awdry. The very last line of it shocked me beyond anything I could ever remember:
"After a prolonged illness, Wilbert Awdry died peacefully, aged 85, on 21st March, 1997, at his home in Stroud."
I couldn't believe it. My idol, a man that had influenced me and had brought me happiness to my life, who I had always wanted to meet, was dead. I wanted to spend the rest of my life in my room, crying my heart out. That's when I learned that his son, Christopher Awdry, had written 14 other books after his father retired. I was surprised. I tried desperately to find the remaining 14 books, but to no avail. Not even the internet could help. I then decided on a new life goal: meet Wilbert's son, Christopher, the boy that influenced his father to write the fantastic stories that I loved today.
One very fateful day, I went to the movies with my family, and we were just walking out of the theatre when something caught my eye that I had ignored previously. It was a poster of a little blue tank engine puffing over a hill pulling two mail coaches. The bottom the poster read, "THOMAS AND THE MAGIC RAILROAD. THIS SUMMER, TAKE A MAGICAL JOURNEY."
I was overwhelmed with joy. I eventually saw both trailers and seen both movie posters, as well as used the internet for some awesome info and clips. I saw the movie in Buffalo, along with my mom and brother, the day it came out: Wednesday, July 26, 2000. I really enjoyed it, and Grammy gave me a copy of the VHS, and I recently got a rare copy of the DVD.
Then everything began to change. Around the end of season 7 I decided to go online and see if there were people out there I could talk to about Thomas. That's when I found TVTome, as well as all the Thomas enthusiasts there, such as Jim, Christopher, Kate, Ryan, and others. When season 8 was announced, there was a sudden uproar on TVTome, where people were complaining about what some new company, HIT entertainment, was doing to Thomas. Right before my eyes, everything became so clear to me, and I understood what had happened. Wilbert Awdry was dead, but Thomas was still alive, but being manipulated for money, and was not being used for the reason before…to make people and children happy. I was furious, traumatized…
I was about to write a very angry letter to the company, when this little, unfamiliar voice in my head told me, "Don't do it. Just sit back and let the Awdry's shine through." Although I had no idea what that meant, I agreed. And look what happened. Calling All Engines! Featured the return of several missed characters, and Season 9 will not only introduce new characters, but also more serious storylines.
Which is why I say to you to just relax, and the Awdry's will soon get their way. All the darkness from before will vanish, and he new and old Thomas will be able to exist in perfect harmony.
And the next time you hear the name Thomas the Tank Engine, please think about Thomas the way Wilbert Awdry would want us to remember him; not as a money-making icon, or a famous a tank engine, but for who he truly is…a really useful engine.