Memories of when mother got mugged

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 11, 2013

As a part of my closing duties of the day at the Danville Science Center, I lock the doors of our old Norfolk & Western caboose for the night. There is nothing in it which can be stolen; and the caboose itself could only be taken if some enterprising thief came along who had first stolen a diesel locomotive and was knowledgeable of coupling.
This makes more sense when I mention again in my column that the natural history building of the Danville Science Center is located in the old Danville train station and that there is plenty of rail around for a caboose’s parking.
The train stations of both Salisbury and Danville share the same architect, Frank P. Milburn, whose services were contracted many years ago by Southern Railway. The architectural similarity of the two buildings also brings to mind a comparison of the structures across from them. Upon exiting the old Danville train station at the end of the day, I always see the late afternoon, silhouetted image of our museum’s much taller exhibit building across the way, and in an instant of reverie, see a resemblance to the Yadkin House.
Getting back to our caboose (whose brethren, unfortunately, nowadays are no longer on the “back”),I ascend its steps and secure it for the night. Turning around from having just faced the caboose’s door, and prior to descent, I find myself, by chance,momentarily assuming the same stance as that of my father in an old black-and-white (with some yellow ) photograph which no longer exists.
In the snapshot, my father is standing on the back of a caboose, or the front, since both ends are the same, just like his old 1950’s Studebaker ( except for its underlying differences of motor and trunk).
In one of my previous columns, I included a picture which my brother Joe sent me of our father out back of the Spencer yard office, but in his “caboose picture”, standing on metal instead of soil, he looked even more the railroad man, decked out in what appeared to be a black leather jacket, along with one of those “iconic” men’s hats of the 1940s, and carrying his railroad lantern. Behind caboose and man could be seen some of the tracks of the old Spencer yard curving away in the shape of its characteristic “hump”.
My mother always carried that wallet size photograph in her pocketbook billfold after my father’s death, and probably for some time beforehand.
One day in the early 1980s, my mother decided to take a shortcut through a Salisbury alley and was mugged. It was probably a spur of the moment decision, like many others we make during the course of our lives which have no particular consequence, but this one, unfortunately did.
The mugger didn’t attack her person, but instead, cut the shoulder strap, grabbed the handbag, and ran down the street, leaving my mother shaken and upset.
At the time, she was working for Pastor Jim Cress at the old RCCM Store location on West Fisher Street.
The police searched the area for her pocketbook, thinking that the thief probably threw it away after removing her money. The police, Pastor Cress, and my brother Joe also searched trashcans along the thief’s escape route. Joe and Pastor Cress also went to the extra effort to search along the railroad tracks, in case the pocketbook had been thrown away there (how ironic it would have been for a criminal to discard a pocketbook containing the picture of a deceased railroad man along the rails’ graveled roadbed).
My mother told me that my father’s old caboose photo was in her billfold , corroborating your suspicions ( by way of me)as to what may have become of it.
Although always a gentle person, my mother said she hoped the young assailant found her bottle of nitroglycerin tablets in the pocketbook, took them to be a hallucinogenic drug, ingested them, and became ill. This was an unusual, out of character comment for her to have made, but I think it reflected the impact of the mugging on her sense of safety in this world.
I can still see that lost picture in detail, in my mind, as, I am sure, does my brother Joe, but with no way for either of us to show it to you. There is some special feeling; however, in knowing that among the 7 billion living skulls on this earth, at least two of them yet have that image imprinted within.
With certain architectural similarities between the Salisbury and Danville train stations, if something were to happen to one , the other would sort of serve as its reminder. In fact, fire did strike the Danville train station in 1922, and was brought under control (so fortunately, the Salisbury station didn’t have to take on double memory duty), but not before the centrally-located tower was destroyed. This occurred during the same time as a snowy blizzard was raging (there were opposite extremes of temperature that night in the immediate vicinity of the Danville train station, but not due to global warming).
That old picture of our father standing on the caboose remains gone. There are no other copies , nor is there a surviving negative. Nothing of a particularly identical nature exists to remind me , there being only one, and it being no more.
Former Rowan resident J. Mack Williams lives in Danville, Va.