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We took my 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter, Kennedy, to ride The Polar Express to see Santa, and there was excitement and screaming.

And Kennedy liked him, too.

I’d been looking forward to this trip to Branson for months. My mom, my Uncle Thom, who lives in Branson, and I took my then-almost 5-year-old nephew four years ago, and it was perfect. We rode in the dome of the train, where we had cookies and hot chocolate, and the Santa was amazing. When my nephew asked, “Are you real?” the Santa pulled on the skin on his hand and said, “I feel real!”

I had high expectations for our trip with Kennedy.

Kennedy wanted to play at the condo instead of putting on her nightgown to ride The Polar Express. I told her I would buy her a train at the store in the depot, and she became more cooperative. The girl loves trains, especially Thomas the Tank Engine.

Sure enough, we went into the little gift shop, and she picked out a big train set and sweetly thanked me for it.

It was cold, and the wind was blowing as we waited on the train platform. Kennedy kept asking, “Can we get on the train now?” I told her we had to wait until the conductor said, “Silver Eagle.” In a few minutes, Kennedy said, “They said Silver Eagles,” looking at me with those big blue, lyin’ eyes.

Nope, they did not, I told her.

Finally, we boarded. We were in a passenger car instead of the dome, but it turned out that was perfect. Kennedy climbed from lap to lap unimpeded by a table. The hot chocolate was too hot for her, but she loved the cookie. She listened intently as the conductor read The Polar Express as another conductor walked up and down the aisle showing the pages in the book.

Then the lights went off, and when they came on, Santa had appeared in the entry of our train car like an apparition. I involuntarily screamed, embarrassing myself and my family.

I went all Buddy in Elf: “Santa, here? I KNOW HIM!”

My son wasted no time making fun of me as Santa made his way down the line to pose with the children and give them a gift of a single jingle bell.

“I heard several children cry,” my son said. No, they did not.

“Waves of panic went through the train,” he said. “People thought it was a train robbery.”

And to all those people on the train who were videoing at the time, I’m sorry.

Santa got to us, and Kennedy sat on his knee without hesitation. She was fine sitting on his lap and liked the jingle bell he gave her, but she was not awestruck like her Mimi.

He was not the same Santa as we’d had years before. He was a good one, but he did have an accent that made me think he definitely was from the North Pole. “Good job; you did fantaaastic,” he said to Kennedy.

We continued to ride the line, and Kennedy put her little face up to the train window and looked at the light displays — the 12 days of Christmas, trees and all sorts of figures. She got particularly excited about the butterfly light displays, for some reason. She said, in a husky out-of-body voice I’ve never heard her use, “ANOTHER BUTTERFLY AND ANOTHER BUTTERFLY!”

When the ride was over, she high-fived the train’s hobo as we walked by.

The next morning, she asked, “Can we see Santa again?”

I told her no. I’m pretty sure my screaming got us banned from the train for life.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-5671 or


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