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Mack Williams: Singing in the crypt

My title caused my “analogous” nature to also think of Elvis’ “Crying in the Chapel,” since tears are often shed in both places; and tears sometime appear during the making of music (would that the singer had something like a trumpet’s “water key” to relieve him of excess fluid in throat and eye).

I must tell you I am a child of the 1950s and 60s concerning movies and TV. A big part of that is Roger Corman’s adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe, usually starring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, sometimes including Basil Rathbone.

Three years ago, I portrayed the Dr. Einstein character in the Danville Little Theater’s production of Arsenic and Old lace in my best Peter Lorre voice! The late Rev. Dean Lingle told me when we were at East Rowan that I sounded like Lorre, so it came in handy for the role. I always wanted to be Peter Lorre, and finally got my wish!

Growing up on Poe and the “cryptic”( different meaning, hence quotation marks) offerings of Dracula and assorted mummy movies, I was “taught” early-on about decay, rust, and the green patina on the bronze doors of the mausoleum (even there, the “green of time” preferable to its removal through cleaning).

Poe loved writing about burial (premature and otherwise), so it is only fitting that of these three “terror-ble” actors, only he was buried, while the other two are scattered to wind and waves.

Back to present: A fellow parishioner of the venerable age of 98 had passed away, and I was engaged as soloist for her funeral service at the mausoleum. She was to be laid to rest both above and below other venerated dead entombed in a large, modern mausoleum located at the summit of a gentle slope overlooking hundreds of graves marked by ground-level brass plates, so placed to aid the grounds keeper in his mowing (and, of course, marking the dead below).

To paraphrase Andrew Marvell, “The mausoleum was a fine and beautiful place,” nothing like what I expected, no twining of dying ivy vines nor scurrying of rats (not even one !). The glass entrance doors were worthy of those at Belks and J.C.Penny. The room in which the service was conducted was as nice as any church sanctuary, complete with lights and carpet, but without piano or organ, so I did my best a capella.

It was like a church, except with bodies in the walls, but so is Westminster Abbey.

A great mausoleum would work just as well as refuge from meteorological storms as from the storms of life: “Seek an interior room” (but not “too interior”).

A table with opened registration book lay just within the mausoleum’s entrance. Behind the book was propped a nice-sized mirror; and I noticed ladies checking their hair (a windy day) after signing. A local history museum recently displayed nineteenth-century funerary customs, and in contrast to this “funerary” hair and make-up mirror, the Victorians covered mirrors with black cloth to discourage vanity while paying respect to the dead.

The light-beige, adjoining marble rectangles on the walls were beautiful, making me think: “doors to the beyond.” The brass letters and numbers, protected from the outside elements, held no patina; and I imagined the passing of years there causing about the same amount of patina as found on brass bed rails.

Sermon and solos went well, and leaving, I looked over and saw something which made my contacts almost “wash out” from my eyes!

One of the marble “sections” was almost covered with pictures of family groups and pets. Seeing this, I immediately imaged my late mother’s (Lorraine Williams) refrigerator door in her apartment at the Yadkin House and covered with pictures of my brother Joe’s family and mine, along with attached home-made cards from her grandchildren, Brandon, Rachel, and Jeremy. This could not be done with a churchyard tombstone, as the elements would wear them away.

Exiting the mausoleum, the old Scripture verse came to mind: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt…”

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