I was four years old when my dad was a blacksmith for the Pennsylvania Rail Road in Altoona, Pennsylvania. We lived in a gray clapboard house high on a hill overlooking the Juniata yards of the “PRR.” From our porch I could see trains being made up and steam locomotives belching black smoke, firing up for the long haul up the mountains around the Horseshoe Curve. Juniata was dark and dirty then, with soot from the engine smoke in the air and everywhere. In the evening, fog laced with soot would settle down in the Juniata Valley.
My dad worked at night on the third shift. I would get up in the morning and sit on the front porch, waiting for him to come home. Many mornings the fog was so thick and heavy that I couldn’t see more than six feet. On those days I would sit with my mother, waiting until I heard my dad whistling. Then she would let me step out into the fog to meet my dad.
I was enveloped by the fog. I couldn’t have found my way the few hundred feet home if I’d wanted to. But I didn’t want to; I wanted my dad. And so, unable to see more than a few steps in front of me, I followed the sound of my dad’s whistling, until I was in his arms. He would hand me his black lunch bucket and with grimy hands pick me up and plop me on his shoulders and carry me home.
When I haven’t always understood God’s will, or clearly perceived His path for my life, or felt enveloped by a fog I did not understand, I’ve remembered that childhood experience. I’ve followed the sound of my Father’s voice. He’s always been there, and I’ve never gotten lost.
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This piece appeared originally back in the early 80’s when I was writing a weekly column called “Ideas For Positive Living” that appeared in about 35 weekly newspapers. Later many of these columns were published in a little book called POSITIVE LIVING IN TOUGH TIMES.
A postscript to this story. My father died at 87 a few years ago as a result of his having worked in the Pennsylvania Railroad shops. In those days asbestos was used as an insulation material for steam engine boilers. My dad would walk from the blacksmith shop through the area where they were repairing boilers where often it looked like it had snowed, but in fact the “snow” was white asbestos fiber. There is an interesting picture in the Railroader’s Museum in Altoona that shows railroad workers covered with white asbestos dust. Many of these workers, like my dad, ended up dying of mesotheleoma as a result. Apparently asbestos fibers can lurk in your lungs for years . . . I hope and pray that when I jumped in his arms as a kid, that none of the fibers from his dirty clothing lodged in my lungs as well.