I wondered why I had not gone the other way. I saw the train up ahead, but it was moving along at a pretty good clip. Opelika is called “A Railroad Town,” so waiting on trains happens often. I figured this one wouldn’t be long, and since I needed to stop at the chicken-finger place on the other side of the tracks, I proceeded on toward the tracks. I could have detoured and crossed over the train on the Second Avenue Bridge. Instead, I sat there impatiently watching for the end of the train. Trains don’t have cabooses anymore, but if they did, I think this one was still somewhere in Georgia! As I fussed and fumed, my mind went back to a time when I would have been thrilled beyond words to have seen such a site.
I grew up in Rainsville, Alabama, which is on top of Sand Mountain. We didn’t have train tracks, so we didn’t have trains. Fort Payne and Scottsboro, the towns in the valleys on both sides of us, had trains. I jumped at any opportunity to visit either place. Back then, I longed to get caught at a train crossing. I delighted in a trackside view of a long passing train. Scottsboro was a double treat. They also had a river - the Tennessee River. Barges traveled up and down its waterway. I thought of them as river trains.
As a child, I dreamed of one day riding a train, but figured I never would. I imagined myself jumping a freight train and riding in a big box car or kicked back in the luxury of a sleek passenger train. Then it happened. My dream came true. Every year, Ms. Ruth Waddell took her second-grade class on a train trip. As a first grader, I heard rumors about those epic trips. At first, I questioned if I should believe such tales. I knew those “much older” second-graders should not always be believed. They told tales such as electric paddles in the principal’s office. I feared the train trips might be another one of their exaggerations. My doubts, coupled with the fact that years were much longer back in those days, caused me to wonder if second grade or the train would ever arrive. Such ambitious dreams did, however, cause me to make better grades in first-grade. I wanted no chances of having to repeat and missing that train. The day finally came. It was a one-way trip. I wished the journey had been to Washington or New York. Instead, we traveled all of fifteen miles, from Collinsville to Fort Payne. We traveled to Collinsville in automobiles and then rode the train back. I can still hear the whistle and the clacking of the wheels across the rails. I soaked up every mile. I stared at every tree, building, and cow we passed. I enjoyed that trip almost as much as my recent tour of Italy! Well, I had seen a lot less back then.
Isn’t it funny how things that once meant so much to us, may eventually become mundane - perhaps even annoying? As I sat at that crossing remembering long-gone days and trains, I began to look at the ones in front of me in a different light – the train and the day. Suddenly, I wasn’t in such a rush anymore. I didn’t want to see the train or the day come to an end. Sometimes we need to slow down and see life in a different way. I hope you enjoy this day. Maybe you will be blessed enough to see a train pass by in front of you. By all means, see the people and most of all see God.
— Bill King is a native of Rainsville, where he and his wife graduated from Plainview High School. King is a director of missions in Opelika, a writer, musician and author. His column appears in the Times-Journal Thursdays edition. Visit brobillybob.com for more information.