Williams column: Funeral of former co-worker
By Mack Williams
For the Salisbury Post
When I pick up the local Danville paper, I always glance first at the obituary section. We often jokingly say that we do that in order to make sure that our names are not listed there, but I think that it is done to contrast our daily waking with those whom we know who didn’t. In my somewhat, usually weighty beginning to one day, last year, I saw the name of Ms. Janice M. Powell listed in the obituary section. Janice had worked with me for many years at the Caswell County Department of Social Services in Yanceyville.
Janice was always a most gracious lady in her dealings with all whom she met. The social workers had to take turns being on-call from the sheriff’s department for after-hours situations involving the abuse of children or adults.Upon receiving the page, we would often first place a call to Janice in order to be advised by her intelligence and experience in dealing with such matters. Just the pleasant way in which Janice answered what she probably knew to be an after hours, off-duty call, took away one’s feeling of guilt for having bothered her at so late an hour.
Having previously taught Spanish at Bartlett Yancey High School, Janice advised me one time (on a matter not so serious) concerning the writing out of the phonetic equivalents to the song “Guantanamera,” of which I had been called upon to sing at the meeting of a club.
I remember running into Janice at the Yanceyville Food Lion some years ago, just a few weeks after she had retired. She looked as if at least ten years had been subtracted from her countenance (a fairly common phenomenon, often noted of social workers, even when only a few weeks into their retirement).
At the appointed time of Janice’s funeral, I attended and saw once again, many of my fellow workmates from not so very long ago (I retired in 2002), some of them still working. I noticed how everyone had changed along that same time gradient upon which each of those present would eventually reach an end, as did our former friend.
I seemed (to myself only, of course) to not have changed as much as the others, both retirees and workers. I then thought about the old legend of a vampire not casting his reflection in a mirror. In a way, it seems that each of us, individually, is something like a vampire, in that when we see ourselves in the mirror each morning, the image of that change, over time, doesn’t seem to be fully cast (or realized).
At the graveside conclusion of the service, those who had paid their last respects were standing around, visiting amongst themselves. This was the first time that I had seen some of them since my retirement. Although some had kept in touch, others hadn’t.
I suddenly thought of something which had occurred when I was a child. The Williamses had gotten together in North Wilkesboro for the funeral of my grandmother Williams. At one point, I remember being in the family car with my Aunt Lola, who made the statement: “The only time that the Williamses ever get together is when someone in the family dies!”
In the years since, I have heard many members of other families make that same statement regarding their respective familial groups. It seems to be a common aspect of human behavior, the frequency of which, puts it into the category of a “cliche.”
That statement made by my Aunt Lola could also have been said of some of my old “work family” as we visited in the cemetery , some seeing each other for the first time in years, faithfully carrying on that old Williams’ family tradition. As we spent time conversing and casually traversing the cemetery on that sunny day, our moving, ground-fallen shadows silently accompanied our conversation and walk. Those dark, animated forms contrasted with the apparently static ones made by the tombstones during our brief stay; but if we had remained a few hours longer, we would have seen evidence of their movement also by the time the day reached middle-age.
Someday, in some place, we will be represented by some “thing” inscribed only with terse “mentionings”, insufficient and pitiful when compared to the respective “well-roundedness” of a once living person. Lively shadows will then be replaced by lifeless, quarry-cut , ground-cast “silhouettes”, moving only “slantingly,” in direct accord with the sun’s changing place in the sky.