Williams column: A trip down memory lane

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 29, 2011

By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
I recently returned to my old home church of St. Paul’s Lutheran to participate as a soloist and son of Saint Paul’s in its homecoming service.
I was looking forward to seeing the people with whom I had grown up and enjoying their covered-dish Homecoming spread.
My best friend, Rita, drove us down from where I live in Danville, Va. Rita is the person who inspired me to start writing down my memories of growing up in Rowan County. Everyone, at some point in this life, should know what it is to have a friend, whom they are very fortunate to have, but really don’t deserve. In my case, Rita is that person.
Rita got a little turned around in Danville, resulting in our being about 10 minutes behind in leaving. When we reached Greensboro, we came upon a very bad wreck, and she noted that if we had left Danville on time, we might very well have been coming through that section of highway when the wreck was in mid-occurence. Rita is originally from Detroit, and she relied on her Detroit driving skills, getting us to Saint Paul’s just before the service began.
I found choir master John Brock and quickly introduced myself. John said that even though we hadn’t had a chance to rehearse, we would be fine.
He wasn’t kidding. When I was singing, he anticipated every nuance of mine, such as holding a note longer or singing a certain section somewhat slower or softer to enhance the emotions being expressed. There have been only a couple of other accompanists with whom I have felt so comfortable.
The choir was full of people with very good voices. At the church where I attend in Danville, sometimes the choir only consists of from six to eight members, and the minister sometimes includes a prayer for more choir members. Pastor Ketchie could also offer up a prayer concerning the St. Paul’s choir, but a prayer of a different nature than my minister in Danville. Pastor Ketchie’s prayer would be a prayer of thanks for that great assemblage of people who love to sing, and sing well.
After taking a seat just before the beginning of the service, I looked around at the once familiar stained glass, woodwork, altar and Eternal Light. They quickly became as familiar again as they had been long ago. I blinked a couple of times to clear up my contacs, resulting in crystal clarity, such clarity re-emphasizing that I was really back there again after all these years.
I saw many people with whom I had grown up, along with a few of my elders in those years. One was Harley Canup. We shook hands and talked. Harley said he was having some problems with his hearing and couldn’t hear me well, but our smiles alone said that we were glad to see each other again. Two of his sons, John and Paul, were there. They now look like Harley did when I was a child.
My friends, Charlie and Pam, who now live in my old childhood home, came to hear me sing. Rita and I, with them, recalled the first time we had all met, when I knocked on their door and asked if we could look around the yard of their home on the Old Concord Road. That house was the one in which I had grown up. They not only let us do that; they opened their house to us and gave us an inside tour as well. They were marvelous to do that. For all they knew, we might have been a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.
Rita and I visited my father and mother’s graves at St. Paul’s. As we were walking from their graves, I suddenly looked down at a footstone whose polished granite minerals brightly reflected the sunlight. The shadows within the carved letters made the name stand out with great contrast. On that stone was carved the name “Edward Kline.” I had heard that Ed had passed away some years ago, but seeing his stone made his death more immediate. I also saw several other stones of those whom I had known, and who had left life while I was away from Rowan County.
Happening upon Ed’s stone so unexpectedly startled me. I thought back to disabilities in life which he had overcome. I remembered his working at a veterinarian’s office, and that he became so expert that the veterinarian would often let him perform operations and run the office when he was away. I remember Ed’s little buildings and lots which took up his whole backyard, those buildings and lots housing a menagerie of animals which were his pets and for whom he cared.
I remembered that when I was a teenager, Ed taught me the correct way to tie a tie. Standing there, looking down at Ed’s grave, I remembered that I had left my tie in the car, and wished that I had been wearing it at that moment.
Sitting at St. Paul’s picnic shelter for “dinner on the grounds,” I could see people older than me, some my age, and a lot of people of all ages whom I had never met before. Just over the gentle hill, could be seen the tops of the taller tombstones of former Homecoming participants, while at the other end of this progression, a man walked by me holding a very new baby.
The wooded areas out back were still present, as well as the green field on the other side of the church. It was in some of that back wooded area, not far from the cemetery, that some of the older boys in the late 1950s and early 1960s had frightened the younger boys. They told them the story of “red eyes,” and said they had seen him in those woods. They had also fooled the younger boys by taking them on a “snipe hunt” in those same woods.
Years later, I found out there really is a bird known as the “snipe,” but it is not found in Rowan County. Its elusiveness in those woods behind St. Paul’s had something in common with the elusiveness of “red eyes,” in that neither of them ever existed there.
Pastor Ketchie, John Brock, and the congregation of St. Paul’s were wonderfully friendly to me. Pastor Bost and I greeted each other and enjoyed seeing each other again. He has hardly changed at all.
I enjoyed talking with my first girlfriend, whose hair is still its same color. The people whom I didn’t know were as friendly to me as the ones with whom I had grown up.
In going to Homecoming at St. Paul’s, I felt as if I were truly at home, in every sense of the word. That feeling of “home” I will always remember.