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Mack Williams column: Little Buddy

No, this title isn’t about the epic “three-hour tour” of the USS Minnow.

It all started one day with the sound of gentle “tugging” on the outside handle of one of the Danville train station/natural history museum’s back doors. I say “gentle,” because it was just that, sounding as if from tired muscles, or not much muscle to begin with.

Not seeing anyone through the door’s mid-upper level window, I opened the door, and looking down saw a tiny little boy of about 3 years of age looking up at me, with his grandmother seated nearby. His grandmother later confirmed he was 3; and he actually looked to be the “runt” version of 3 years old. He wanted to know if he could come in and take a look at our large model train layout. I said “Sure,” and he and his grandmother headed straight to the n-scale scene.

He reminded me of another little boy of whom I had written about some time ago; except this one was somewhat shy and seemed to preface his carefully spoken sentences with great thought.

His eyes reminded me also of mine as a child, big with dark circles around them. Mine were due to genetics, not head trauma, and I’m sure the same goes for him. (I only mention head trauma, because for most of my life I was a social worker, and some of those kinds of things still come to mind.)

It was a Thursday when he and his grandmother first came to the museum, and they have returned almost like clockwork every Thursday since then.

When visiting, they mostly sit outside at the picnic tables and watch the Norfolk Southern freights go by, but seem quite content to just see the little local switch engine carrying a couple of boxcars to or from a side yard.

On those occasions, I will hear his “door-tugs” several times during the course of the afternoon; so each time, I let him and his grandmother in. (In that respect, he is a little like Columbo.)

At those times, he will ask me the latest “railroad question” which has popped into his mind.

The sound of the diesel engine’s horn sometimes causes him to almost run inside the train station while his grandmother is trying to calm him and remind him that there is no cause for concern.

I took them both to our butterfly garden; and thankfully, the little boy’s fear of diesel horns didn’t extend to butterflies (about which I’ve seen some children scream bloody murder!).

In the garden, his wide eyes were filling up on butterflies in much the same manner as a car fills up at the pump.

On another visit to the butterfly garden, this little boy was totally hemmed-in by second-graders in the butterfly garden “air-lock” which serves to prevent butterflies from escaping. In addition to cautioning the students about stepping on butterflies when inside, I had to add “Don’t squish my little buddy on the way in.”

Just the other day, after locking up the museum, I happened to glance out back and saw the little boy being held aloft in his grandmother’s arms, crying.

Concerned, I went outside and asked if he was okay. His grandmother said he was fine, it was just that he thought he had missed telling me goodbye for the week until they return the following Thursday. (At that instant, Earth’s gravity seemed to increase its tug on both my countenance and my heart.)

Then she added: “He worships you and calls you ‘the man at the train station.’” (Fortunately, he doesn’t preface that appellation with the word “old.”)

I suddenly felt myself not unlike some of the beloved “characters” on “Captain Kangaroo” or “Mr. Rogers.”

The little boy’s grandmother said they would be back the following Thursday; and we all shook hands on it.

Just like everyone else, I had become overly used to only a youthful mega-athlete filling the bill of “role model” (at which some have failed) and had forgotten the theoretical probability of that term being also applied to a museum “science guy” on Medicare.

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