Andrew Dys

Childhood dream comes true aboard 'Polar Express'

YORK -- In little mill town of Easley, outside Greenville, so many of her 73 years ago, there was the train. It was silver and it gleamed, and it would rumble by on those tracks that literally split Main Street in two, and this one of nine children would dream.

"I would say to my daddy, 'Take me to see the train,' and sometimes he would carry me on his shoulders," Ethel Sealy said. "I would look at those people through the windows. They would be inside eating. I would say to myself, 'Someday, that will be me, watching people looking in.'

"I would wish it was me."

Sealy is long past that fateful visit to Chester after high school to see an aunt of which Sealy recalled, "I had on these white short-shorts, and I saw these two guys, and one said to the other, 'What are you looking at?' And the second guy said, 'Those long legs.'"

The guy looking at "those long legs" was Hope Sealy, whom Ethel later married after that day in Chester of "love at first sight."

Sometime, close to a half-century ago after the Sealys started a family, Ethel must have told her little daughter named Sheila that same story about the train.

Ethel Sealy has lived outside York for decades, known for years for her expertise at Stacy's greenhouses. She has been a widow for more than a decade. She never rode a train.

Last weekend, daughter Sheila -- long married and named Sheila Sealy Brown -- invited her mother to a weekend getaway in the North Carolina mountains. Saturday night, they ended up at a little town near the middle of nowhere, called Dillsboro.

From there, people board a train. It is The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and Sheila had bought a ticket for her mother on "The Polar Express," just like the children's book and later movie. The one where Christmas comes true for a little kid -- you can hear the sounds of Christmas bells, if you believe.

"I was just like a little kid, crying with joy on that train," Sealy said.

The train started on its almost three-hour ride. Waiters came around with hot chocolate, poured from a height of about 3 feet in a fine stream into a tiny cup without a spill.

Dinner was served, and this grand dame who still looks like a million bucks was not allowed to serve it or do the dishes. She had to sit there as the courses came. She barely touched the food.

"I remember some kind of green beans, a casserole I think, but I was too excited to eat," Sealy said.

She looked out the windows at the lights. At a stop, she saw people outside.

The people waved. Sealy waved back.

Sheila, the daughter, had found a copy of "The Polar Express" book and brought it on the trip as a gift for her mother. Inside was a hand-written note from Sheila that began: "You are finally riding on your dinner train you dreamed of as a young girl."

The letter went on to say how much Sheila loved her mother.

"I had no idea that Sheila could have remembered me telling her that story about watching the people on the train," Ethel Sealy said. "It was so long ago."

On that Saturday night train, Santa Claus waddled up to Ethel Sealy and plopped right down next to her. He held out a red box. Inside was a Christmas bell.

Santa asked Ethel Sealy from the mill town of Easley, where the train used to slide by, before he rang that bell, if she believed in the spirit of Christmas.

Ethel Sealy said. "I sure do."

The bell rang and she heard it.

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