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Mack Williams: July 5th ‘fireworks’

On the evening of July 4th, I attended the Danville Symphony Orchestra’s patriotic concert with daughter-in-law Rose and my late wife Diane’s mother Doris. My son Jeremy is in the orchestra, recently switching from percussion to oboe, but that evening was playing English horn (similar fingering).

Works by John Williams and Richard Rodgers (Victory at Sea) were featured, along with a wealth of marches, many by John Phillip Sousa, and Tschaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. In some introductory remarks about the National Emblem March, Maestro Peter Perret humorously mentioned the lyrics: “And the monkey wrapped his tail around the flag pole” (but he didn’t continue on to the part about a certain tail-proximity orifice of that monkey being frozen due to such wrapping). I had heard these lyrics before, then remembered the ones which my late mother told me her generation sang to this march back in the 1920s, lyrics  involving one of the monkey’s digits and that orifice nearest its tail (I think the “Roaring ’20s” were somewhat wilder than the present day).

Sometime during the night of July 5th-6th, I was awakened by one of the most violent, continuous electrical storms (and thunder, of course) I’ve ever experienced. None of those summer storms on the old Concord Road, from which my parents had to usher me in from my front porch, front row seat equaled it, as memory suffices.

The constant, intermittent (not much space between that “intermittent”) flashes gave the impression of daylight repeatedly trying to “switch back on” (like a chain-pulled light bulb with bad connection), but without success.

Thinking of the great electrical discharge above, I was glad Ben Franklin wasn’t out there then (for his own safety). It also would have been a “perfect storm” for Baron Victor von Frankenstein to  have exclaimed to Igor: “Off with the kites!”

I thought of the prior evening’s playing of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” except this time “aerial” cannon drum and “aerial” tympani were being struck by “electric” mallets (a “charged” percussion).

This night-lightning came from so many different directions that the electrically-cast shadows changed wildly and rapidly along many compass points, not like daytime’s predictable, stately-moving shade cast by objects illuminated by the sun’s singular, predictable path.

Just then, from my window’s vantage point, two great flashes of lightning struck simultaneously from opposite ends of the sky, creating, but for seconds, a shadow-less, “faux-noon” soon lost in the earth’s great shadow of night.

I imagined some of those sky-wrenching bolts and sounds as Waterloo’s cannonade, Verdun’s exploding shells, and the USS North Carolina’s “Sound and Light Show” (which my daughter Rachel somehow slept through as a baby).

Speaking of Verdun, I remembered the “Bertha gun” reference from Johnny Cash’s “Ragged Old Flag,” thinking despite the sky’s non-solid state of “airiness,” this great storm must surely have shot enough even more vacuous holes through it, resulting in Swiss cheese consistency!

Due to the storm’s duality of sound and light, despite closing tired eyes, I still tracked it with unclosed ears.

I wrote some time ago about my mother (Lorraine Williams) unplugging everything in our house at a thunderstorm’s approach. I daresay, in this sort of storm she might have even considered ripping electrical lines from house attachment or connection to utility poles down on the Old Concord Road!

The storm eventually moved on to where the tiniest distant flash caused no report.

Thinking of that brief musical thunderstorm in Beethoven’s Sixth (Pastoral) Symphony, in this case it was as if simple, melodic, bird-like, post-storm “pleasantries” had been crossed out by the composer and replaced by storm sounds all the way to symphony’s end (which would have been in character for Beethoven, whose crossing outs and rewritings sometimes make his original scores appear a little messy).

Which is all well and good, since it was the middle of the night and neither birds nor I were ready for celebratory “tuning up” to mark the storm’s passing.

So we all went back to sleep.

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