In the Genes
Off the Wall, June 15, 2017

A week or so ago, I was walking to my favorite hardware store when I noticed a train heading west at a good clip. I always get a little mesmerized when I see a series of railroad cars, known as railcars, being pulled in one direction or another.

I know a lot of people who live in a town such as ours, don’t even give them a second thought. A matter of fact, I wonder if they hear them at all. There is such a thing as blocking certain noises out of one’s minds, you know?

This train thing with me goes way back to my growing up years. My father was fascinated with trains and used to sit in the car and state various comments (all good) as he waited for a train to pass.

One thing that I noticed in particularly is the graffiti on the cars. A matter of fact, I even look forward to seeing what the creative minds have come up with to add to color to the railcars.

It’s a shame, you know, there are jobless people out and about violating the laws by spray-painting their names, gang names or what-have-you on the sides of these metal structures. It is my opinion, each one could be holding down a descent job for an advertising agency or architectural firm.

I know I’m getting off track (not meant to be a pun), but some graffiti I consider a plus to some buildings rather than negativity. I have had my garage chalked with obscene language, and that, my friends is the worst and degrading marks displayed.

Getting back to the subject at hand, whether I sight a locomotive pulling one hundred cars or two locomotives moving along the rails, I take note of what’s going on.

Here’s the question. Since my father had so many captivations with the passing of these rectangular, wheeled, compartmentalized structures, and I am intrigued as well, could it be something in the genes or just an amusement of sorts?

As a psychology degree recipient, it would seem that the latter would be more significant. But on the other hand, I still have to wonder.

We’ve all heard those sayings – “ Johnny has that because he takes right after his father.” “Grace is doing the very same thing as her mother. Surely, she was born with that talent.” “Michelle can yodel just like her sister. They were both born with that ability.”

Here’s the thing. How does one really know when one is born with an act or attains it as a learned mode of conduct?

Let me take this one step further as my father and I had a lot in common, I think. If my brother or sister were gifted with the same enjoyment as watching trains, I’d begin to think it might be genetic, but I’m not sure, and I’ll tell you why.

My father loved to watch airplanes land and take off. He got a certain thrill watching them ‘bank’, soar through the air or just glide. If I hadn’t told you those specifications were about my father, they are identical to mine, as well.

I love to watch the Spirit come from afar, peak out of the clouds and slowly descend to the landing strip at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. It’s almost as though I am in a trance whereby my eyes are glued to that metal object floating through the sky.

But not only the big planes get my attention, but everything that has wings that man has built. Every time I hear the engines of a plane or helicopter, I have to stop what I’m doing and look up.

I think I have it worse than my father. He used to take the family to the Allegheny County Airport and just stare out the large glass windows to see the planes of all sizes ascend and descend. It used to give him such pleasure.

If my mind serves me right, that was back in the 50’s. What joy he had.

We seemed to be at that airport a lot as my father’s employer sent him here, there and everywhere on business trips. The whole family took joy when we watched the plane in which he was traveling come in for a landing and touch down, eventually slowing in speed until coming to a halt.

I still can’t help wondering if my fascinations are genetic. In all probability, I wanted to be like dad.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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