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Mack Williams: Unexpected compliment from ‘old soul’

We often bristle about unreceived compliments when thinking we did something noteworthy in the workplace, public arena, or at home; but of a completely different nature are the unexpected compliments.” For these examples of the “unexpected,” a “heads up” would just be a surprise spoiler!

Sometimes we fish for compliments, either subtly or :”How’d my church solo sound?”(of which I have been guilty). But no hook has to be baited nor cork set for an unsolicited, out-of-the-blue: “job well done!” (throwing us off balance in a nice way).

I now relate what happened to me the other day at my workplace, the Danville train station/natural history wing of the Danville Science Center.

The old train station lobby is very “live,” (not wooden molding sprouting leaves like the staff in Tannhauser, but alive acoustically). When Yuri Zhivago’s aunt told him his mother could make a balalaika sound like two guitars, I daresay if performing in the resonant lobby of the Danville train station, she would have sounded like an  “octo-woman” playing four balalaikas at once (two hands per balalaika).

Not far away from the museum is a railroad bridge with “tunneled” automobile underpass .I often hear drivers honk their horns just for fun while going through it. One regular “tunnel traverser” has a car equipped with the horn sound of the Dukes of Hazard’s “General Lee” (“honking” the tune instead of “whistling” it).

Similarly, school children and preschoolers walking upon the train station lobby’s terrazzo floor soon discover that even their least of yells can be “Johnny Weissmullered” by the acoustics! There’s even been some impromptu barbershop harmony (but not by the kids).

Toddlers yell out short “blasts”, realizing the live acoustics will “answer.” Farther down, in the equally sonorous gallery, kids “roar”at the taxidermied tiger; but he maintains his “stoic” demeanor (through not by choice).

The other day, while a visiting family was on the museum’s lower level, I was in the upper floor lobby singing something while checking our supply of brochures in the racks. I don’t remember exactly what it was, just some old Italian art song my long-ago Appalachian voice teacher Hoyt Safrit (China Grove native) taught me.

I turned around and there was a little girl of about 9 or 10 who said she had come from downstairs (apparently drawn by the “echo”) to see the source of that beautiful voice (I say “beautiful” not in self-aggrandizement, but to highlight the compliment, which at that moment was unexpected by me).

She had come all the way upstairs by herself to tell me this! I noticed an “old soul” look in her eyes. I’ve seen that look before, always accompanied by the particular young person’s fearlessness in conversing with a grown-up, as opposed to that “deer in the headlight” look evinced by many other kids when attempting such conversation.

Whenever talking with one of these very young “old soulers,” I feel like I’m talking with someone who’s at least 40! I’m too much of an old Lutheran-Presbyterian to totally believe in reincarnation; but with these children I get the feeling that the “slates” from their previous lives were only partially wiped clean!

The little girl’s family later went over to our other science building; and when at my close-of-the-day taking of the moneybag up its steps, I heard a car slow down and a voice behind me shouting :”Have a good evening!” I turned around (as before) and it was the same little girl, this time waving from the car window. I said: “You have a good evening too!”

Being a good role model for the young is not something limited to athletes (in fact, some of them have “dropped the ball” in that regard). We should always have our “best foot forward,” not only to set an example, but also for the prospect of having “entertained angels unawares,”and the chance receipt of an unforeseen compliment from an appreciative “old soul.”

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