Recently I was in Pennsylvania for a speaking engagement at a large retirement community. During my 3-day stay, a staff member took me on a tour of the center. It is a fabulous facility set on well-manicured acreage. But the thing that impressed me most was the basement.
Actually, it’s not a basement like you might be imagining. It was neither dingy nor dark. There were no dripping pipes… in fact, no visible pipes at all. As we stepped out of the elevator, I could see that the brightly-lit hall was wide and appeared almost as long as a football field.
The staff person ushered me through a door to the enormous woodworking shop. There, I discovered a group of happy men who could have easily passed for gray-headed elves at the North Pole.
These older men seemed delighted to show me some of their projects. Several of them were making birdhouses for an upcoming fundraiser. But soon I discovered what they really wanted me to see was across the hall. It was their Train Room, an impressive collection of miniature trains.
One of the men told me that every December, they bring the elaborate train exhibit to life so that families from all around will come to the senior residence and enjoy the nostalgic experience. In the woodworking shop, they create tiny towns, crafting every building themselves. They are forever expanding the landscape with tunnels and bridges, hills and rivers.
Once the exhibit is open to the public, they really become Santa’s elves. They quietly solicit the name of every girl and boy from parents, then announce it from a hidden microphone to the amazement of the children!
As I gazed at the locomotives and the snowy scenes, I could understand the children’s fascination. Even though the displays were not yet completely set up for the annual event, and the trains were silent, there was magic in the room!
Over dinner, I asked one of the men why they do it? Why do they spend hours and hours of their retirement days hunched over tiny Victorian homes, creating intricate details, and repairing hard-to-see train tracks.
The reason is simple, they tell me. It feels so good to give yourself away.