Williams column: Looking though the annual
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
Every once in a while, it is interesting to look at pictures in old school annuals to see people and places as they once appeared. When I thumb through those pages, I find a great similarity between my mind’s “personal” portraits of those days and the pictures in alphabetically assembled rows comprising that “annual” collection. There is one big difference; though,and it pertains to color. Instead of black-and-white, I remember my years at Granite Quarry School in “living color,” as the old advertisement proudly prefacing a certain television network’s programs back then stated (although while growing up, I only saw that proud peacock’s announcement in myriad shades of black, white, and gray).
Some years ago, I looked through an old Granite Quarry School annual which postdated the departure of Granite’s 9th-12th grades to the then new, East Rowan Senior High. To the best of my memory, this volume dated from the very early 1960s. Whereas the 12th graders had been the ones previously occupying a place of prominence, after the high school’s departure, that position of honor was sort of re-assigned to Granite’s eigth-grade graduates, although for them, there were no listed “favorite sayings,” awards, or future predictions, as there had been for the old high school’s many previous years’ worth of twelfth graders.
After the subtraction of grades 9-12, the outer covering of the annual changed from hardback to paper (although a high grade of it). I didn’t see a hard-bound school annual again until I received my freshman annual at East Rowan in the Spring of 1966. The switch to hard-back in high school kind of implied that those ensuing years and their accompanying memories were more noteworthy, to be better protected than those of the elementary-middle school grades of Granite Quarry School; but although I have many good memories of East Rowan, I have a great many more special and “solid” Granite memories.
In that early-1960s annual, not far past the obligatory, initial portrait of the local quarry, was an outdoor photograph of the beginning of the average school day at Granite Quarry, the sunlight arriving in early morning slant (I think that my copy of this old annual is now somewhere in rental storage). Most evident in that picture are a couple of school buses which can be seen pulling in and discharging their mandatorily-educated passengers.
Further perusal reveals already emptied buses parked for the day, while the shadows of buses still arriving are being freshly cast, along with the shadows of the numerous schoolchildren who have already disembarked. The picture was from an aerial perspective (though of considerably less altitude than that of Landsat). It was taken from the flat roof near the earliest grades’ building, that most “elementary” classroom building of Granite Quarry School.
When I last saw that picture, I think I remember recognizing our custodian, Mr. Ford Sifford in the vicinity of where he operated the school’s furnace, providing us with the day’s heat ( in the seasons for which such provision was appropriate). I am sure that his efforts were most appreciated on that particular morning, as all of the pictured students and their shadows seemed more corpulent , more “filled out” with cold-weather coats, gloves, and stocking caps. Unlike our individual pictures in the annual, this expansive scene could have been referred to as a random, “mega-group” portrait, sort of like one of those old dioramas encountered along “Roadside Americana” depicting a famous local historical battle, the subject of this “conflict’s” expansive depiction being: “the triumph of education over ignorance.”
Due to the particular angle of the camera that day, only the school driveway, parking lot, some buildings, and disembarked students can be seen. The cameraman’s downwardly-focused concern leaves out everything that was overhead. Despite this; however, those bright images of buses, buildings, and children, combined with the highly contrasting crispness of the shadows of things and people, translate into a morning sky that was mostly cloudless, mostly blue.
After a closer inspection of that picture, I finally located myself, standing next to the Canup boys ( John, Paul, and Tim). In that old photograph, I am looking up toward the roof-perched photographer, pointing my warmly -gloved hand to indicate his presence to the three brothers. His image, along with that of his camera can be seen, cast by the sun on the bus entrance area below. Since there is no separation between the shadows of man, camera, and tripod, they appear connected together to form something which resembles some strange, other-wordly creature in his machine from H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, having just appeared atop Granite Quarry School’s primary building (when the Aztecs first saw a Spaniard on horseback, some of them thought that both beings comprised one entity). The Canup brothers and I saw the source of the unusual shadow that morning, and knew it to be simply the photographer and his equipment connected with the publishing of our school annual, the “Quarrier.”
As the Canups joined me in facing both the camera and the morning sun, the photographer snapped a picture of that greater scene of which we were a minute part. For those who still posses a copy of this Granite Quarry grade-school annual from the early 1960s, try finding John, Paul, Tim, and Mack ( instead of Waldo). As the photographer released his shutter, the sun also “snapped” a picture of the picture- taker’s shadow on the asphalt below, a surface already heavily-laden with great tires ,juvenile feet, and the complete shadows accompanying each.
With the solar face directly opposite us, the back-lit photographer’s face looked just as completely dark then, as his long-since developed shadow does in that old picture today, unlike the sunlit microscopic images of the Canup boys and myself, which can be magnified to some degree of identification. The person taking the picture; however, will always remain to me as does his sun-blackened image. That shadow is as developed on photographic paper as is everything else in that scene, but it still remains an unknown “negative”. By way of the inadvertent intrusion of the photographer’s shadow into his work on a bright morning some fifty years ago, his whole earthly self became the “thumb” in the way of the sun.