I’ve been blessed with many wonderful presents throughout my life from family, friends and students — things that I treasure to this day.
But the present my husband gave me this year did something none of the others did. It made me cry. Not tears of sorrow, but of joy, remembrance and gratitude.
There was a big box under the tree this year. I hadn’t put it there, so I knew he had. I had no idea what would be inside; the presents from him are usually smaller than this box.
When I opened it, I could hardly believe my eyes. Inside the box lay a beautifully framed picture of the Frisco Depot in Bolivar.
The picture of a long-gone railroad depot might not mean much to most people. To me, it brought back a flood of memories, all at once, of that depot when I was a child. And with those memories came a rush of gratitude for the thoughtfulness that made this gift happen for me.
My dad, Bob Pufahl, was in charge of the depot in Bolivar. I’ve never known exactly what his title was, but I surely do remember when he was there.
Mama would take me into the depot and Daddy might be writing something down or he might be on the phone or receiving or sending a message on the telegraph. At least, I think it was a telegraph — it’s been a few years.
I remember how it smelled in there — old wood — a place where people worked, picked up deliveries, brought items to be shipped, or waited for the next passenger train to come and take them to their destination.
Maybe they sat on those old wooden benches awaiting the arrival of a family member or a friend from far away. Or maybe they were just coming from Springfield, or Morrisville, or Cliquot or maybe even Kansas City.
Who knew? Daddy did.
The handcarts in the photo sit empty, parked alongside the building. But when I was there they were loaded with boxes, suitcases, crates and all manner of things and being pushed toward or away from the train by people who worked for the railroad. There was always the acrid smell that coal smoke leaves, no matter whether or not there was a train sitting in the station, huffing and puffing as steam engines do.
In those days, there were passenger trains and freight trains that went through Bolivar day and night, southbound toward Springfield and northbound to Kansas City.
We lived very near the crossing, yet became so accustomed to the whistles when the trains crossed the road that we didn’t even hear them in our sleep.
Before the common use of semi-trucks, the trains brought meat in refrigerator cars to Bolivar each week on Friday. I know that only because I’ve been told more than once that I was born on meat day, “the depot’s busiest day,” as Daddy commented to Mama when she called to say they needed to take a ride to Springfield.
On Sundays, if I persuaded my parents to meet the southbound passenger (I believe it came through at 2 p.m.), the engineer gave me a shiny nickel. I was always there when my persuasions were effective. The engineer would come down out of the locomotive and smile at me, then hand me the nickel.
After a short conversation with Mama and Daddy he would always look down at me and say, “Stand back now. We don’t want you to be scalded by the steam.” And, climbing back up into the locomotive, he would wait for the conductor to give him the “go” sign.
The engine would huff and puff and puff and huff and the wheels would begin to move slowly, gaining speed as it left the station, whistling at the crossing and disappearing down the track.
I loved those trains. I still do. I will go to great lengths to go wherever a steam train may be found. And I think the guy who managed this gift for me is really special.
Also, thanks to Mike Gardner and Mark Stephens for their part in “The Christmas gift that made me cry.”
Jean Pufahl Vincent is a “native” of Bolivar and Polk County. She is a retired educator, teaching history at Bolivar High School for 14 years. She is a member of the Polk County historical and genealogical societies.