COLUMN: ‘The Polar Express’: I heard the bells!


Being a grandparent, I’ve learned that the time between 2-3 years old is a wonderful age for grandchildren. They talk pretty well, they’re just about potty trained and they’re still unencumbered when it comes to social graces. Come to think of it, that’s the same way my wife describes me.  

It’s also a time for questions. “What is this? What’s that for? Why are you doing this?” They are little sponges absorbing everything they can as the world unfolds before them.  

This combination of cuteness and curiosity, coupled with a sense of wonder, makes Christmas especially wonderful for little children. The fear of Santa is over. The concept of gifting is basically understood. And the old, classic Christmas movies are new and fresh to them.  

And so, a few days ago, we got to introduce Addy, one of my granddaughters, to a classic holiday flick, “The Polar Express.”  

It didn’t come about easily. That’s because there’s another trait of children this age I haven’t mentioned: upon finding a cartoon, movie or TV show they like, a small child will want to watch it over and over again. This drives me out of my mind. If I was kidnapped by the Taliban, they could make me confess to anything by forcing me to watch fewer episodes of “Paw Patrol” than my granddaughter does each day. And if have to see “Luca” one more time, I might puka. So, predictably, when we tried to put “The Polar Express” in the viewing rotation, we were met with all the resistance she could muster. There was pouting, crying, whimpering, tantrum throwing – and that was just from my wife.   

As for Addy, she just sat in her Mimi’s lap, whining, “Nooo! Wanna watch Wuka again! Wanna watch my Wuka again!” 

I remained patiently optimistic. I knew if we could just get her to focus on “The Polar Express,” she would be hooked. So, we started the movie, and as I expected, things began to quiet down. The hook was set. She was watching it! Seizing on an opportunity, I stepped out of the room to get my car keys. This would be an excellent time for me to run a few errands.  

However, as I walked back through the den on my way to the garage, I stopped in mid stride. Because right in front of me was my granddaughter, smitten by the movie I love so much. It was innocent. It was beautiful. It was perfect. I found myself smack dab in the middle of a real-life Hallmark moment.  

As I welled up with emotion, Addy took her gaze away from the screen, looked at me and said sweetly, “Day-yea, you watch it, too.”   

(Sidebar: ”Day-yea” is the name she gave me. It comes from her early attempts to say “granddaddy.” I think it’s stuck, and that’s ok. I actually kind of like it.)  

That did it. Only Scrooge could run errands after a request like that. I put down the car keys and sat down in my red lounge chair. The plans had changed. There’s only one time in my life to experience this with Addy, and I was not going to miss it. So, for the next hour and a half, I watched as she soaked up the Christmas magic of “The Polar Express” for the very first time. She would occasionally glance up at me and smile, happy I was sharing this time with her. Tears began welling up in my eyes. It was hard not to get emotional watching this scene unfold before me. 

Honestly, I must admit that during a lot of holiday seasons, I behave like the adults in “The Polar Express.” I don’t hear the Christmas bells ringing. I get too caught up getting ready for Christmas that I don’t let myself experience Christmas. That wasn’t the case today. Today, I heard the clean, pure peal of Santa’s bells just like the child in the movie. It was a special moment between grandparent and grandchild that I will always cherish. And when she gets older, I will share the whole story with her – including what she said the minute the movie ended.  

“Day-yea. I wanna see it again.” 

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you hear the bells.  

Joe Hobby is a comedian from Alabama who wrote for Jay Leno for many years. Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: Follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian- Writer.