As I have a mentioned before on my Fortnightly Blog (No One With A Nose / Wise Fool / Ode to Josef), when Ben and Sam attended St. Peter's School in Philadelphia, they were required to memorize and recite a poem every month. They both jumped right in, declaiming one long narrative after another right from the start. "Christmas Eve on the Train" was one of Sam's earliest choices, and one for which he was awarded the monthly declamation prize.
It was my idea that Sam give this particular poem a try because, as a child, I myself had loved to hear my Grandma Lindsey recite it. She must have learned it from the above clipping that my mother found among Grandma's papers, many years after her death. We pieced it together as best we could, though a few segments were missing.
I never knew my grandmother to actually read the poem from the clipping or from any other source -- only to recite it word for word from memory. Her spoken version always closed with the penultimate stanza, " . . . And so he came to the little maid / In an emigrant's disguise." As you can see, this is also where the above clipping (which includes neither author nor title) concludes, so perhaps that's all she ever knew.
Despite my many Christmas books and poetry anthologies, I have yet to encounter this poem anywhere, other than my grandmother's recitations; her crumbling clipping, and -- more recently -- on the internet, where I learned of the last stanza and the author's name with the aid of Google. It was extremely gratifying to realize from my search results that I am not the only one with fond childhood memories of "Christmas Eve on the Train." I can close my eyes and hear once again my grandmother's soothing voice as if it were yesterday:
Santa Claus On the Train
On a Christmas Eve an emigrant train
Sped on through the blackness of night,
And cleft the pitchy dark in twain
With the gleam of its fierce headlight.
In a crowded car, a noisome place,
Sat a mother and her child;
The woman's face bore want's wan trace,
But the little one only smiled,
And tugged and pulled at her mother's dress,
And her voice had a merry ring,
As she lisped, "Now, mamma, come and guess
What Santa Claus'll bring."
But sadly the mother shook her head,
As she thought of a happier past;
"He never can catch us here," she said.
"The train is going too fast."
"O, mamma, yes, he'll come, I say,
So swift are his little deer,
They run all over the world today; -
I'll hang my stocking up here."
She pinned her stocking to the seat,
And closed her tired eyes;
And soon she saw each longed-for sweet
In dreamland's paradise.
On a seat behind the little maid
A rough man sat apart,
But a soft light o'er his features played,
And stole into his heart.
As the cars drew up at a busy town
The rough man left the train,
But scarce had from the steps jumped down
Ere he was back again.
And a great big bundle of Christmas joys
Bulged out from his pocket wide;
He filled the stocking with sweets and toys
He laid by the dreamer's side.
At dawn the little one woke with a shout,
'Twas sweet to hear her glee;
"I knowed that Santa Claus would find me out;
He caught the train you see."
Though some from smiling may scarce refrain,
The child was surely right,
The good St. Nicholas caught the train,
And came aboard that night.
For the saint is fond of masquerade
And may fool the old and wise,
And so he came to the little maid
In an emigrant's disguise.
And he dresses in many ways because
He wishes no one to know him,
For he never says, "I am Santa Claus,"
But his good deeds always show him.
by Henry C. Walsh, 1863 - 1927