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Mack Williams: Returns

On Saturday, May 21, George Washington returned to Salisbury after being away for 225 years, making the original visit seem “just like yesterday.”

After dire a.m. meteorological “forebodings,” ever-decreasing clouds were replaced with ever-increasing blue sky and sunlight. Were it not for the song “Blue Skies” being out-of-sync with the eighteenth century, the assembled crowd could have sung it.

People in period dress busily double-checked with Kaye Brown (Braun) Hirst on where they should be and what they should be doing, something I had seen many times before at the Rowan Museum’s German Fest.

After the battle of the Monongahela, George Washington wrote to his brother: “By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human possibility and expectation.”

It was inspiring to hear Rowan Museum President Terry Holt remind the assembled crowd of Providence’s role in George Washington’s life, then saying Providence was once again playing a “George Washington-related” role in the rapidly improving morning weather.

Terry’s enthusiasm was “infectious,” for when he announced President Washington’s impending arrival from the Rowan Public Library’s Stanback room, later exclaiming “The President is here,” I couldn’t help craning my head to look out the windows in the chance the “original” might actually show up!

Lynn Bull portrayed Washington wonderfully! In person, and in later posted Facebook pictures, he had the same benevolent look in his eyes as those who met Washington said of him.

I told the “President” it was an honor to meet him, and I added a “God bless you” after singing a period song for him.

I didn’t ask Lynn Bull a single word about his preparation for, and years of experience in the role, as that would have been quite rude; since at that time, for me and others, he WAS George Washington! It would have been sort of like asking such of Washington, himself; and if you read about our first president, you will realize he was always improving upon himself in order to be the “best George Washington he could be,” even at the end.

Before starting back to Danville, I decided to stop by the old store building on South Main where my mother, Lorraine Williams had worked when it was W.T. Grants.

I had not been inside there for almost half a century, and had seen in the Salisbury Post that Home Town Furniture, that space’s occupier, is going out of business.

The store’s “sale” signs told me it was still open, so I “took my chance at the past.” Parking across the street, then walking over, a couple of ladies asked me: “Are you George?” I said “No, but I did sing him a song!”

In a city “primed” for George Washington, its “feelers” figuratively “out” for him, anyone with tricorn hat and white hair would have elicited such response that day (but just up the road in Lexington, people might have thought I was the advance man for Long John Silver’s).

Inside the old W.T. Grants building, everything had changed, of course, with nothing left to even show where Catherine Swicegood’s lunch counter or the candy counter had been.

A couple of friendly, sweet ladies were working, one up front, and one in an office area in the back. When I saw the “office lady,” I thought of Mrs. Rickard, Grant’s office manager whom everybody called “Rick.”

The old lounge and stockroom had been “subsumed” for floor space.

The ladies asked about my “outfit,” and I sang the chorus of my ‘Washington song.”

Their enthusiastic, kind complements told me that friendly, gracious ladies still work there, though not the original ones of my youth.

I told them my mother, Lorraine Williams had worked in the drapery department “right there,” as I pointed to the store’s back right section.

I looked over to the left, about halfway back to the location of the long-ago source of many of my Christmas toys (from Salisbury’s W.T. Grants’ latitude, not North Pole’s “90 degrees”).

I thought of the “Grantcrest” label, and that the last time I’d seen it on an item of clothing was on my underwear (not that morning, but back at Appalachian).

The ladies said their store will soon be vacant, and that the vacant store next door, the old Woolworth’s, will be up for rent, too. I thought it very appropriate that buildings which once held competing businesses will soon be competing for “occupancy,” themselves.

I bade the sweet ladies goodbye and headed for my car, thinking that although George Washington seemed to have successfully returned to Salisbury after 225 years, my attempted “return to W.T. Grants” after a comparative “only” 50 years was somewhat futile and mixed with melancholy.

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