More exciting than Christmas Days were the mornings of Christmas Eve when my father disappeared into the attic. First the scraping, thumping, an indecipherable word and then it was coming down: The Platform. While my mother warned, Be careful, Sam. Be careful! the wooden planks joined by cross boards and covered with green felt eased through the hall and to the living room. In a corner vacated by the least comfortable chair, two short saw horses were awaiting my treasure: home to collapsible buildings, animals, snow, a pond with tinfoil water and the big Lionel train with the smoking locomotive that ran a perpetual oval route.
My father has been dead for more than thirty years and I have since built my own platforms (one of them a whopping 150 square feet with seven trains, a trolley and forty-three track switches) . There has never been, however, a place either real or imagined that has so deeply enriched my life as THE Platform, his creation each year on that four by six foot universe that sparkled beneath the tree.
As soon as the winter night tucked us in, I headed for the miniature conductors chair and faced the glow of Christmas lights reflected in the glass balls and cellophane windows of Plasticville. In the darkness beyond, no other world existed. The slow clack-clack of the train soon escalated until something smelled like it was burning. An occasional raspy toot alerted the people (most of whom were never visible) that the work day was over so all daddies would soon be disembarking at the station.
I have always longed to live in a town where the animals talk and the snow is warm. The stars there come in every color and people sit safely at home following the midnight Christmas Eve service at a glitter-covered church with a crooked cardboard steeple. They are tired but speaking in hushed anticipation of St. Nicks arrival. I see him in the distance, Rudolph leading the team as it rounds the gold metal tree stand that invariably leaks and causes the flood that causes the train to be prematurely unplugged before even three of the twelve days of Christmas pass.
In my memory there are sooty looking factories with windows so dirty that the golden light barely gets out. There are disobedient chickens loose in the town square. There is a bakery with a shiny black tile facade and cases with lace doilies fanning out under sweets of every persuasion.
Hatboro is an actual municipality with potholes and a Rotary Club. It is alive in Pennsylvania not far from Philadelphia. Whenever my father drove through Hatboro, hed announce that it was named after people making hats. I loved hearing it for the order it brought to life, a place with a name that actually meant something (like Rockledge, my hometown, where a sign explains it all: Rockledge-- named for Ledges of Rock.)
Hatboro Imagined is my extension of The Platform. I have taken great liberty with the facts of color, shadow, time of day and season. The vital and modern aspects of the town (like fast-food restaurants, cloned drugstores , and a drive-through teller window) are not shown in my fictional documentary . I have even made spanking clean establishments look crusty with imaginary soot. I have long been in love with a nonexistent place of which Hatboro sweetly reminds me.
As I begin the descent from mid-life, I realize that Ive poured my own childhood into the mix and readily confuse it with an imagined one. Perhaps fantasy villages allow children to adopt a past before time takes over and assigns one immutably. Perhaps Plasticville provides a critical escape from sorrows that accumulate like too many cabooses taxing the engine.
In creating the Hatboro images, Ive responded to an ambiance definitely expressed by the actual place, but Ive literally and figuratively colored it to satisfy my eye. Feeling guilty, perhaps, for so much distorting of the locale to match my childhood world, I went out of my way to ensure that true establishment names were clearly legible-- as if holding my escape to a least one real anchor around which all else might vary and by which visitors might find their way around a town well worth visiting.
Adjoining each photograph is a totally fictitious recollection inspired by the image. Ive even concocted false historical events to round out my tale. For that reason, the reader should feel free to skip the words, just look at the pictures and unabashedly invent a personal plot.
Within the stark shadows at the end of whatever time is passing over Hatboro, there are stories too complex and emotional to be told by one person, anyway. After all, Hatboro is the silver shimmering on the undersides of leaves rising up to face a storm. It is the hour when birds stop singing. It is whatever one remembers in the fog, or hears when a train passes in the distance, or sees in the lights behind the curtains where a child still waits for someone to come home.