Williams column: Illuminating the darkness

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 10, 2011

One time, in the very early 1960s, my parents and I went on a trip, the length of which required that my father do some night driving. In the daylight hours, everything along the highway from my view in the back seat was connected. After sunset, and after dusk became true darkness, there was a ědisconnectî of the things of the day which appeared connected as they seemed to stream by us earlier in the daylight. The sights now ěgoing byî appeared separate, punctuated in between with darkness, with differing degrees of visibility in proportion to the varying brightness of the lighting employed.
When passing individual homes, I could sometimes see chandeliers, but more often, simpler ceiling lighting if the home were similarly simple. I never saw anyone in the windows of these homes, but was sure that although they were out of my sight, they were not far away from, and within sight of that overhead illumination, unless it had been left on, as with a place of business, to deter buglars.
When passing by a city, I saw that some lights remained on in some of the windows of an office building, their disjointedness in relation to each other making them resemble the early stages of puzzle solving on the old Hugh Downís ěConcentrationî gameshow.
A few buildings would have the trademark of a national business in lights, that familiar brand name seeming sort of comforting in the darkness. Restaurants would be illuminated, as well as car lots, with their plastic differently- colored triangles being strung above and across the lot, resembling nautical semaphores.
On some taller buildings which reached up into areas where a small plane might approach in the darkness, lights flashed red at the summit, similar to those atop radio broadcast towers.
We began the trip with our old constant friend, 1280 on the AM dial, but as our distance from Salisbury increased, WSATís constancy faded, with the place of that number on the dial eventually becoming silent. As well as our route being traced on a roadmap, it could also be followed along the dial, with the number of radio stations whose detectability would gradually increase, reach a zenith, then slowly fade away as we drove, a bit like supernovae in the darkness of space ( but in the case of supernovae, they appear already at their zenith of brightness, to be followed by a protracted fading, then seen no more).
It being the early 1960ís, on many of those radio stations there seemed to be a predominance of Frankie Valliís falsetto voice in the night. Some stations were asking their listeners to call in some of their favorite songs to be played. A few did call in, and of course,we didnít, but could have if we had miraculously jumped many years into the future and were fortunate enough to not be passing through a ědead zoneî.
When we would stop at a filling station, the attendant ( some at that time, still in service station uniform) would pump the gas, check the oil, and then proceed with glass cleaner and paper towel to clean dirt and ěbug juiceî from the windshield. I remember looking up at the glass from the inside while the attendant cleaned it, the sight of the wiping away of the highway grime from that angle having an almost therapeutic effect.
Looking up from below as he cleaned, I had sort of the same vantage point on his cleaning as some of the hapless insects which had been splattered there.
I got my first taste of McDonalds that night. I seem to remember the dill pickle chips in the hamburger as being twangier than now, but maybe it is I who have lost ětwangynessî over the years.
When my father would cut on the overhead light to check his roadmap, the small, intimate space in which we were riding stood out against the much vaster space which seemed to be speeding past us outside. This being the time of the Mercury Space Program, I thought about Alan Shepardís flight in his Freedom 7 capsule, the inside space of which seemed to have about the same amount of room as the space physically occupied by me in that small portion of the back seat of our family car.
When we reached our destination, a good portion of the night still remained before us, so the rest of that night we spent as we would have at home, asleep.
The hotel in which we slept was a former ante-bellum home. It was in the shadow of a great tree of similar age which was illuminated by an outside yard light.
The shadow of that incandescently-illuminated tree was much older than the shadows of the full moon-illuminated trees in my yard back home on the Old Concord Road, but the collective intensity of those younger, familiar shadows was just as deep as the intensity of that great unfamiliar single shadow which was their senior by many years.