Williams column: A still-life Memorial Day memory
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
I have a brief memory of a band playing patriotic themes many years ago, but it wasn’t our East Rowan Senior High Band. This band dates from an earlier time. The place of my associated memory has nothing to do with football (the most common association of a high school band, other than a parade). There were no concession stands close-by, and no miniature pigskins were being hurled into bleachers filled with noisy, homecoming fans.
The members of the public assembled in that recalled place were quiet to the point of reverence. Instead of the marked-off and measured chalk lines of the gridiron, there were the measured lines of columns of identical white marble stones upon which names and dates had been chiseled. On some of the stones, names and dates went lacking, with only the word “unknown” being inscribed, but it was chiseled into them just as deeply as were the names and numbers on the other stones.
Many football fight songs are rendered by high school bands during the chilly month of November, but that day of my memory was in very late, warm May. The songs and marches played by that band had to do with the patriotism of the country as a whole, not school-versus-school.
This was so long ago, that my memory of it is almost subliminal. Someone, even only a year older than I would recall more of the details. A common stereotype (an unfair one) disparages the memory of a senior person, but in this case, the particular memory of a very young person is more tattered and shadowy than would be the memory of someone who had been senior to him in that time and place, (probably having something to do with the extreme youthfulness of my yet, training-wheeled mind).
This subject of my recollection, somewhat spotty, is that of a Memorial Day service at the Salisbury National Cemetery, not long past the mid- 1950s. As far as Memorial Day speeches of that day are concerned, I have a solely visual memory of someone speaking from a podium. In my recollection, the person’s mouth moves, but I hear no words, perhaps meaning that my very juvenile mind’s “film” of the scene wasn’t quite yet a “talkie.” I recall some of the strains of music, so my memory-film wasn’t totally quiet; even the old “silents” were accompanied in the theater by a piano or organ.
The band in performance, playing those tunes, fragmented by my memory, was the senior band of the old Granite Quarry High School. The dark reserve of their uniforms was mixed with the slightest infusing of crimson in their decorative, military-style cords. Added to this, their equally military-style, peaked caps gave them the most appropriate dress for a memorial ceremony of dedication to soldiers who had fought and fallen.
My brother Joe played percussion in the Granite Quarry High School band; and afterwards, on that day, I remember seeing him and the other percussionists packing up their equipment. I also recall walking back out through the National Cemetery’s iron-gated entrance on my way to the family car.
In reflecting on this very early memory of mine, I find myself thinking about a small piece of dated luggage in which my mother kept a bunch of old family pictures. In my mental picturing of it now, it looks old (even before that piece of luggage was stored for all of these years in my memory), probably dating from the 1930s. All of the snapshots within it were black and white. Most were on photographic paper, but there were others, tintypes, which predated even the little suitcase. Some of the images were limited in scope, portrait-like, from the shoulders up; while others were full-bodied, showing a couple or more individuals with backdrops consisting of pastoral scenes, furnished rooms or city sidewalks, beside which now-antique cars were parked. The pictures on photographic paper, even those black-and-white (and yellow), still had some second-sense hints of motion in them. The older images on tin; however, from more staid times and traditions, had that same “deadpan” stare as in the famed portrait, painted two thousand years ago of a couple looking out from a wall in Pompeii.
There is a similar suitcase of pictures like that of my mother’s within my mind, a collection of stored images over time, the more recent ones in motion, like film, with the older ones being essentially photographs. As I continue to age, the older rolls of moving-picture frames in my mind’s “container” seem to keep slowing to the point where all motion comes to a stop. Each year, more and more of these “old movies” become “snapshots.” Such has become the case with my then-moving, now still-life, earliest Salisbury Memorial Day memory.