My 4-year old son, Declan, loves trains. He enjoys seeing trains whenever he has a chance — he hopes we get stopped at railroad crossings — and playing with toy trains is his favorite pastime.
In spring 2003, Declan had been saving his money for many months towards the goal of getting a “real” model freight train. Then his Great-Aunt Gracie sent him newspaper clippings about the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, where she lives. A major snowstorm had collapsed the roof of the roundhouse, the main museum building.
This destroyed many one-of-a-kind locomotives, train cars, and antique collectibles from the railroad’s heyday. I read the articles to Declan, and he asked when they’d be able to fix the roundhouse and trains, “so everybody can see them and learn about trains”. I explained that insurance would pay to fix the building, but some train cars were irreparably damaged. The remaining cars would take a long time to repair, as the museum was relying upon donations to fund the expensive repairs.
Without missing a beat, Declan announced he wanted to make a “do-na-shun” (donation) (repeating the word several times to commit it to memory) and ran to get his dinosaur money bank. I helped him count the money he had saved: $18. We give him $1 a week allowance, and he earns 10 to 25 cents extra by requesting to help with household chores, so $18 was a significant amount of money for him.
When I asked how much he wanted to send he looked at me tearfully and said, “You mean I can’t send all of it?” I assured him he could indeed do that, but asked if he realized he wouldn’t be able to buy any toys for quite a while. Before I could finish my sentence he jumped up and down, saying “Send it all! Send it all!”
He then spent 45 minutes laboriously writing his own letter to the museum explaining what the money was for — another great feat as he’d just started writing two months previously. I surreptitiously substituted a check for his cash and sealed the envelope, then helped him put it in the mailbox.
The B&O Museum staff sent me a standard thank you letter, as I had also sent my own check. However, they took time to write Declan a personalized letter and send him train coloring sheets. He was thrilled they truly recognized his gift, and is looking forward to a trip to Baltimore to see the progress of the repairs.
Declan never regretted his decision, and when he found a nice toy car at the grocery store the next day, he played with it, then matter-of-factly put it back, explaining he couldn’t buy it because he sent his money to the train museum.
“But that’s OK, because lots of people look at the trains, and I’m the only one that would play with this car.” I hope his generosity will inspire my future decisions.