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Mack Williams: The cemetery incident

I begin this like a police investigation on the vintage TV show “Dragnet” because at first, I wondered if a crime had been committed. Imagine Sgt. Joe Friday’s characteristically droll questioning:

Friday: “Where were you on the evening of Monday, October 12, 2015?

Me: “Sitting in a chair, at home, reading a book.”

Friday: “Where is that home?”

Me: “Adjoining Grove Street Cemetery’s wall.”

Friday: ” There is no wall on the Grove Street side, nor any side of Salisbury’s “Memorial Park Cemetery!” (The detective, evidently having connections there, giving Rowan’s Salisbury front burner status in his mind above similarly named cities in England, Africa, Maryland, etc.)

Me: “This is Grove Street, Danville, Virginia; although when my parents and brother Joe moved from Danville to Salisbury in the 1940s, they first lived on Salisbury’s Grove Street.

Friday: (in that characteristically droll, business-like tone): “Let’s stick to the facts of what happened on the night of October 12, 2015. Tell me the whole thing, and if I need to interrupt, I will.”

On Monday evening, Oct. 12, 2015, I was sitting in a chair in my living room, reading a book, when multiple “explosions” came from somewhere outside and above, sounding like a professional fireworks show’s climax. Looking outside, I saw nothing (unlike Sergeant Schulz, who when “seeing nothing,” only meant he was ignoring “something.”)

The sky was clear, so it wasn’t thunder. I heard no sirens, so evidently nothing had exploded (railroad tank car, etc.). Going to bed, I thought about an explosive meteor (“bolide”) with thunderous sound, but this “thunder” was very close.

Looking out my bedroom window the next morning, I noticed that in one part of the old cemetery, the tree canopy was on the ground.

Walking past the cemetery’s wall, I was overwhelmed by the smell of freshly cut wood, a “cheese” odor, reminiscent of wood we sometimes burned when I lived on Yanceyville’s Highway 158 West.

The rather pleasant aroma effused from the cemetery’s oldest and largest pin oak, of 4-foot diameter, bent over and broken about 9 feet above the base. This was “freshly snapped” instead of “freshly cut” wood. The break wasn’t complete, so I walked through this wooden “arch.” Since I’m 5-foot-6, and the space above was 6 feet, I passed through without stooping.

It was much safer than walking through a severely earthquake-shaken house, because all that was likely to fall had fallen.

Standing there in the cemetery, seeing the tree’s newly exposed, surprising, inner “rottenness,” I thought of “Whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones and all manner of filth.”

One broken limb of the fallen tree dangled from a neighboring tree’s limbs, like an “arm” unsuccessfully stretched out to break a fall.

The major downed limbs were trunk-like, with a wide outer swath of branches, twigs, and still-green foliage 10 feet high in some places. This part of the well-kempt cemetery now looked overgrown from above by an instantaneously “dropped” forest.

Walking through this “thicket,” checking for damaged tombstones, I parted branches just as I did in my old boyhood woods off the Old Concord Road, except that in this freshly made, freshly shaken “woods,” there were yet no spider webs to dodge.

Lifting one branch, I discovered a massive limb pressing against a Confederate soldier’s gravestone. Being war dead, the cast-iron Southern Cross of Honor was also implanted. The cross was not damaged nor the tablet tilted, still in perpendicular “attention!” (standing its “ground.”) The soldier’s name, coincidentally, was “S.B. Williams.” I doubt if we’re related, but perhaps all “Williamses” are. (Around Christmastime, I think of possibly being related to “Andy.”)

One tablet’s top was broken off, revealing inner, marble “snow,” contrasting with surface “oxidized gray.” Such brightness made this long-ago death seem new.

I then happened upon something peculiarly macabre. Parting a cluster of foliated branches while proceeding through this “ready-made forest,” I saw where a massive limb had gored and plowed out the soil of one grave. Next to a 3-foot-deep hole lay a 3-foot section of turf, a “botched” exhumation (“botched” because only 3 feet deep).

Leaving the cemetery, and being a sentimentalist, I took a twig in remembrance. Its leaves are still green, with acorns attached, each acorn still wearing its “sporty” little cap.

Having fallen “communally,” these acorns will never take their “individual” Autumnal plunge.

These leaves will skip fall, soon going from “summer-green” straight to “dead- brown.”

That, Sergeant Friday, is everything, as best I can recall.

Sergeant Friday: (characteristically droll, but uncharacteristically melancholy) “Thank you; you’re free to go!”

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