June 26, 2013

Mark Millican: The train whisperer

Mark Millican

— It’s gotten to be an eerie phenomenon, but nowhere near unsettling.

More often than not when we have our second grandson with us and are driving near a railroad track, Pop (yours truly) can seemingly make a rumbling train appear — to Elijah’s intense enjoyment. It doesn’t matter if I have to slowly ramble up the long, straight Waring Road in northern Whitfield County that parallels a pair of tracks. Sooner or later, most of the time, that train is going to come barreling through.

If he believes that’s some kind of “Pop magic,” so be it. He’ll grow up too soon and learn better soon enough.

(Around 50 to 55 trains pass through Dalton during a 24-hour period, according to regional Internet train chatter. But that’s our little secret, OK?)

My apparent paranormal rail acumen has kinda gotten out of hand, however. Because oftentimes — even without Elijah in the back seat — when Teresa and I approach a railroad crossing the “ding-ding-ding” warning bells ring out and the crossbar arms lower into place. My wife stares at me incredulously, but what am I to do? Lift my arms with palms up and say, “You got me!?!”

I’m hoping she starts believing it’s Pop magic, too. After all, how can it hurt to be known as The Train Whisperer?

When Elijah, 2-1/2, and his little brother Samuel, five months, are both in their car seats Pop is the pilot up front. Gran (Teresa) is in the back seat with them, reading books or dispensing toys. Meanwhile, I’m on high alert. My hands are gripping the steering wheel at 10 and 2 instead of the usual practice of having my left wrist slung over the wheel like when I’m cruising in my pickup truck. Each approaching car speeding toward us is a potential enemy, and I stare each one down and through mental telepathy ask, “What is your intention? Are you staying on your side of the road? I demand you remain on your side of the yellow line!”

It’s Pop’s mission, I’m telling you — I’m carrying precious cargo.

Our other two grandsons, Reece, 4, and Abel, 2-1/2, live near a small airport in Alabama. Needless to say, we like to venture outside during visits and watch the Cessnas take off, lazily tracing their airborne circles around the neighborhood and tipping their wings when they see us waving.

The boys also like to go hiking, and on our last trek Pop overestimated their endurance. The trails were divided into different lengths of loops, and it was Pop who determined the boys could make just over two miles. We should have known when the trail veered downhill that the last section back to the parking lot would be up a mountain, leaving my son-in-law and me toting the spent little lads like sprawled-out backpacks.

But he ain’t heavy, he’s my grandson.

Teresa and I love doing things together, but we both agree when it comes to our grandsons we’re “all in” for them, knowing we’re both privileged to have them for awhile — and are also accountable for their safety. (That’s because they get a head-to-toe inspection from their moms for new scrapes and bruises upon their return.)

We also try to walk a lot and eat well. After all, we have another grandchild due in late July or August. Then it’ll be five grandkids under 5 — a Condition Red alert!

Mark Millican is a former Daily Citizen staff writer. You can follow him on Twitter,  @ExtraByMark.