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Mack Williams column: Feeling the heat again

Well, this spring proved to be as hot, or even more so, than last summer, and it has served to provide me with new images about which to write. Things have even been so humidly hot as to resurrect a memory involving my youthful, shirtless journey through a sun-drenched fallow field.

But first, something more “senior recent,” followed by something from my days of “young adulthood.”

One late afternoon last week, desirous of Chinese cuisine, I drove to a little strip mall in Danville where a restaurant by the name of “Great Wall” is located. Such restaurant, with such name, leaves no doubt as to its menu (unless located in Britain adjacent the wall which Hadrian built).

Exiting my car, I noticed, as often before, that the smell of Chinese food from that diminutive kitchen overwhelmed the parking lot. Then, on that unusually hot, early summer day, a much different smell from my Christmastime youth surfaced: “cedar!”

Not seeing a tree, I glanced down at a decorative strip of horizontal, running cedar, complete with its blue fruit. While the cooks inside cooked delicious dishes, an outside cook, the sun, baked aromatic berries.

This next happened when I was a young father in Yanceyville, witnessing “Bill Murphy’s sun-fried egg!” Bill ran an antique store, and on an unusually hot summer day would take out a “good ole” black iron frying pan (antique) and set it on the sidewalk in direct sun in front of his establishment. He ceremoniously cracked an egg, spilled its contents into the pan, and periodically checked on its “cooking” progress until late afternoon.

By then, it appeared to have cooked just a bit, the outer clear edge finally becoming a little more opaque, living up to the name: “egg white.” I still would not have eaten it (green or not, ham or no), as it had the look of falling far short of health regulation.

Speaking of those old frying pans, with which those of us of certain age are quite familiar, they were clean, despite the “crust of the ages” having united with their metal. If that black “patina” were scoured away, revealing the bright, shining, unoxidized surface beneath, it just wouldn’t be the same (kind of like removing decades-old patina from bronze statuary).

I now return to 1962 to round out this brief selection of some of my life experiences of heat (home-based whippings and one-time school paddling by Mrs. Roselyn Misenheimer not counting, being friction-generated instead of solar). This last part happened just off that most special, lengthy, narrow strip of earth (though asphalt covered), the “Old Concord Road.”

On that extremely hot summer day, I decided to explore far past that area in the woods behind our house where we cut our cedar Christmas trees. I eventually left the comparative forest coolness and entered a sun-emblazoned fallow field which appeared to have once been planted in silage corn, only dried stalks remaining.

This was during noontime, zenith heat (fit only for mad dogs, Englishmen, and evidently me). I removed my shirt, tying it around my waist, as cool-weather mall-walkers do, effecting a sort of “jacket-kilt.”

The sweltering heat temporarily succeeded in removing my shyness and my shirt. (Years later, “dressing out” for gym at East proved very trying.)

Feeling about to die from thirst, I emerged from the hot “stick-field’ into the backyard of “Miss Bessie” Julian (Southern colloquialism: “Miss,” even if married or widowed). She was a fellow “septuagenarian-octogenarian” parishioner of Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church. Back in “civilization,” I quickly slipped on my shirt.

I knocked on Miss Bessie’s door, told her of my thirst, and she brought me a glass of cold water (with ice). I gulped it, thanked her, and walked the relatively short distance back home along the Old Concord Road. (During that long time in both woods and fallow field, I hadn’t “flown” as does the crow.)

A strong, “garden vegetable” smell was on her breath as she handed me the glass, namely “bell pepper.” I said to myself that she must have been eating it in the same fashion as eating an apple.

I sometimes eat a bell pepper as I would an apple, since they are sweeter than some apples, especially “Granny Smith.” When helping my late father-in-law in his garden, I sometimes ate one right there (after washing off the Sevin).

Before 1962, the thought of eating a bell pepper in such manner had never occurred to me, so I guess that’s Miss Bessie’s legacy to me.

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