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December 9, 2004

What If?

by Chris Feeney

What if we paid attention to signs? Iím not talking about traffic signals or my favorite property markers. This reference is to premonitions and other hidden omens.

I guess most of the time the typical foreboding goes unnoticed as we are too caught up in our everyday lives to notice when someone is trying to send us a message.

I guess that simply expands the impact when one of these special messages catches up with you. It hit me like a load of bricks as I was sitting in my truck in Ottumwa, IA waiting at the train crossing.

It had already been a rough morning. I had worked well into the a.m. completing the newspaper so I could send it to the printer. My abbreviated slumber time was cut even shorter when I got a call that there were problems with the pages that I had uploaded over the internet to the publisher. So I tossed on some clothes and rushed up to the shop to hurriedly fire off a repaired file.

That took long enough that we were now behind schedule. I didnít even get a chance to head home, as I had to drive to Ottumwa, where the newspaper is printed every Wednesday morning.

Obviously, since I was in a hurry, I got behind every disabled vehicle or delivery driver that gets paid by the hour. Iím not real patient anyway, so these slowpokes just fueled my ire.

My file problems caused the printer to be behind schedule as well, meaning the papers were not done when I finally did arrive in Iowa. I had a few minutes to waste, so I decided to grab some lunch at the McDonaldís drive-thru.

My truck clock said 10:30, but the official time at the restaurant was 10:27. Anyway thatís what the voice told me through the speaker on the menu board where I was attempting to order lunch. She informed me that lunch is not served until 10:30 and asked me to order breakfast instead. I had my heart set on some French fries (my favorite and actually the first words I learned to say as a baby). So she told me to please pull forward. I pointed out that there was no one behind me in the drive-thru, could she simply place my lunch order and wait the three minutes to start cooking it.

So after I got my lunch at Long John Silverís across the street, I headed back to the printer.

But I didnít make it, as I came to the intersection near the river where the lights started flashing and the traffic arms lowered to indicate a train was coming.

I just lost it, I started shouting, cursing and generally just feeling sorry for myself. The city workers on the right of way must I have thought I was crazy. They were working clearing a fallen tree. Cutting up the tree limbs for chipping.

I watched them for several minutes as the longest train Iíve ever witnessed slowly chugged down the line hauling cart after cart of coal.

Thatís when my late grandfather smacked me on the back of the head as I spotted the Christmas decoration on the light pole. For whatever reason that Santa Claus brought me his memory.

My grandfather, Sterlin, had always joked with us kids about being good for Christmas. He warned that if we were bad we would get a lump of coal and a stick in our stockings. Of course every year we kids dropped our hidden chunk of coal in his sock along with a stick or two scavenged from the yard.

Well here I was getting a reminder from grandpa. He was telling me to shape up or the city crew was going to dump that load of sticks in my Christmas stocking along with that train load of coal. Thanks grandpa, I got the message.