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Mack Williams: Lights out

A week or so ago, at approximately 1 a.m., the power on the street where I live went out; but almost simultaneously, there was a series of explosive sounds (followed by “expletives” from me).

I have heard a few 9 millimeter “pops in the night” (as opposed to the famous nighttime “bumps”) from the next street down, on occasion; but this sounded as if handguns had been replaced by howitzers.

Just seconds into that darkness, it seemed already like the 18th century, and even the “Dark Ages,” but that’s only because we’re so used to electric light. Growing up on the Old Concord Road, the only time I ever remember a power outage was when my mother unplugged everything in the house prior to an approaching thunderstorm.

We’re used to air conditioning too, and of course, without power, that’s gone, unless you’ve pilfered one of those hand-held fans from church (not nice to do).

Seeking some fresh air, I went out on my porch and sat in a chair overlooking the adjacent cemetery (actually, overlooking nothing, for without street lights, the cemetery was “pitch black”).

While sitting there, a ghostly figure came down the street from the general direction of Danville’s Midtown Market. The specter recognized me first, hollering out “Mack.” On the streets of New York, “Mack” is what they call you if they don’t know your name (or at least in the old movies of the 1940s). There, I would be in a constant state of alarm and uninterrupted adrenalin flow, wondering as to how so many people knew me by my first name.

The ghost was solid, turning out to be local Danville historian Gary Grant, part owner of the Midtown Market (best chicken salad in Danville). He was only passing by the old Grove Street (Danville’s got one too) Cemetery, not haunting it (although it is “ripe for haunting,” the cemetery, itself being in a state of “departedness,” since it was only used from 1830-1920).

Gary had been checking on the store and his mother, next door, and had called the city police about the extraordinarily loud “cannon fire.” While discussing that “phenomena,” we came to the conclusion the noise had come from a power transformer “kicking out” (instead of “kicking in”).

For the good part of an hour, we stood on the darkened sidewalk, having an outdoor, light-less nighttime conversation about a wide variety of subjects under the sun (which if our conversation there had been about 5-plus hours earlier, we would have been).

Since Gary is Danville’s historian, I mentioned a little of my personal history about my parents and brother Joe having lived in Danville prior to moving to Salisbury before my birth.

We talked of how kids don’t seem to spend much time outdoors anymore “like we did.” I told him about one recent day at the science museum where I work, in which I was showing a school class our butterfly garden.

On the way to the garden, I showed the kids a patch of milkweed (the only plant eaten by the monarch butterfly caterpillar), and breaking off a leaf, I showed them the “milk.” Even after I had repeatedly stated that the liquid is only called “milk” because it’s white and opaque, one kid kept asking: “But is it milk?” Becoming increasingly tired of this, I said (very nicely): “You know, someone asked me that the other day, and I told them, ‘This isn’t really milk (pointing to the white liquid), because this really isn’t a cow (pointing to the plant).’”

I was glad to see that the child, his teacher and classmates all laughed about it (and that my thinly-veiled “smart-assed” nature had passed under the radar once again).

Gary and I also talked about how sad it was that Danville’s downtown churches don’t pool their choirs anymore to achieve musical, faith-filled “extravaganzas,” as in years past.

The old cemetery’s proximity probably made me then mention a late, beautiful Danville contralto with whom I used to sing duets in church. In addition to her beautiful singing voice she spoke like a true “southern belle.”

While we used voice boxes and eardrums to communicate, over on Main Street the lights remained on (“Main Street USA” usually farther along than its side-streets anyway). Many people in the light of those rooms were probably still doing more of their communication with “gadgets.”

Gary and I bade each other “goodnight,” and just a few minutes later, the lights came back on.

Earlier, only a minute into the power’s cessation, everything had become “grossly abnormal,” but only a minute into the power’s return, all was “grossly normal” once more.

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