Mack Williams column: Scratches in the floor

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 10, 2016

One late afternoon before locking the doors and setting the alarm for the old Danville train station/science museum, I happened to glance down where the sunlight was reflecting off of the old station’s polished terrazzo floor.

Over the years, there has been a lot of foot traffic in the old Danville train station, designed by Frank Milburn (also Salisbury train station’s designer), and built by Southern Railway in 1899. The Danville station’s tower burned in 1922, but unlike Salisbury’s, it didn’t have gargoyles (which I always look for when passing by the Salisbury station on visits back to my old hometown).

The sunlight on that recent afternoon at the Danville station was at just the proper angle for it to be refracted by the atmosphere from yellow to a mellower “gold.” Later day and lower angles would make that gold descend into orange, red-orange, red, infra-red, and finally, the black of night.

By virtue of that light, swirls of golden scratches were revealed in contrast on the 117-year-old station floor. Some were extensive, while others were chopped and brief, reminding me of the time a girl at Appalachian fancied herself a palm reader and read my palm, declaring a “40-ish” death for me by reason of my “chopped” life line. (You can’t hear it in Salisbury, but here in Danville, I’m knocking on wood, even though I’m now twenty-some years past that age.)

These “grooves” in the floor reminded me of the lines on a long-playing record, but made at random, without the circular coordination of the “platter.” They also had the confused look of the old game “Pick up Sticks” (its picture sometimes posted on Facebook with caption: “Remember this?”).

If all those wildly disarrayed scratches could all be played “LP-style,” but with multiple needles at the same time, we might finally get an approximation of how Jackson Pollock’s paintings would sound.

Or each line might tell a story, something “life-affecting,” e.g., departing soldiers, off to the “Wars of the twentieth century” (and early twenty-first), or just travelers to Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, etc. to “see the sights.”

When I looked again at those “gilt etchings” in the old station’s floor, an almost subliminal optical illusion made them seem to rise to a three-dimensional “flaxen” clump. It was as if Jason’s epic journey were continuing into the twenty-first century; and while rushing through the station’s lobby to catch the Amtrak Crescent (on to further, epic journeys), some of the Golden Fleece had slipped his grasp and fallen to the floor.

I also imagined those “linear articulations” to have been made by the boots and baggage associated with rail passengers. The original 117-year-old oaken benches have a few names and initials carved on the backs (names and initials always more meaningful than just simple scratches).

The seats of those passenger benches have hardly a scratch at all, since what generally rested there was too soft (or should have been) to have made scratches.

Carved initials on the window frames of the train station have been waxed over so much by janitors over the years that they have the look of old tree-trunk carvings, faded from bark growth (“D. Boone kilt a bar, 1803”), but surely the old train station window-frame wood isn’t alive?

Getting back to my “wonderings” as to the origin of each of these “hairline floor carvings;” I must be willing to temper my romanticism with the cold hard facts of the light of day (a golden, afternoon light brought such to my attention in the first place).

In an about-face from protracted reverie, those sun-drenched, golden “swirls” can be easily explained by the wearing away of a mop’s “braids” and the resulting  friction of it’s metal attachment with the floor.

After all, I did say the old train station is also a SCIENCE museum.

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