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Mack Williams: Triangle

Back in the early 1960s, my brother Joe and I took an all-day trip on Southern Railway’s passenger service courtesy of our father, Bernard Williams being a Southern railway employee, specifically, a clerk at the old Spencer yard office. An employee’s family members could “ride the rails” for free, without fear of getting their heads bashed and thrown off the train like the railroad’s “infamously-gratis” riders: hobos during the Great Depression.

Our trip, being to more than just one place and back, transcribed a great three-dimensional triangle, its alphabetical points: Asheville, Salisbury, Spartanburg. Though of a good size terrestrially, it was in no way as great, size-wise as those heavenly “star-shapes” known as the Summer and Winter Triangles.

The way some people now “binge out” all day on the episodes of some TV shows, Joe and I “binged out” that day, not on Amtrak (still in the future) but Southern Railway’s own passenger service!

The following comprise my long-term memories of that trip:

I remember a feeling of “powerless-ness” over the passenger couch’s sliding over the rails; but since my driver’s license was some years off, I was used to being a powerless passenger in my father’s old Studebaker, and my brother’s Buick when we went to the Salisbury station to watch passenger trains arrive and depart.

I especially remember breakfast in the dining car, on tables with fresh flowers and set with white tablecloth matching the uniform of the gentleman seeing to our meal. The china and the utensils were real, no “Chinette.” I can still taste the grits, specifically the gravy applied! I can’t recall the type of flowers, so in this instance “taste-memory” must be so powerful that it overpowered some of the memory gleaned from sight.

I can’t recall the “ham and eggs”, but there must have been, since it was “Carolina”(although this was diesel, not “choo-choo”).

I still see that gravy and I still see another liquid, spewing, nothing “flu-like,” but the man-made Andrews Geyser in Old Fort. Its “fuel” comes from a “room temperature” adjacent pond, while that of Old Faithful comes heated from below.

Asheville’s train station(1896) has that “Almost-turn-of-the-century” look like the one in Danville (1899), and Salisbury’s station (1908) has that “Eight-years-into-the-new-century look.” In these cases, of course, the century involved in all of this “turning” was the century prior to this one.

In Spartanburg, we had a slight layover, so we stopped in at a nearby newsstand. My thoughts were drowned out by the sound of “ka-pow,ka-pow,ka-pow,” the sound of a giant pile driver at work.

I said that my thoughts were drowned out by the sound of the pile driver, but more correctly, my thoughts “became” the sound of that pile driver! ( I must go back to Spartanburg someday, since whatever was driven in by that pile driver has been silent now for a long time).

At that Spartanburg newsstand, I bought a comic book, “Tales from the Crypt.”I still remember one tale about a lady sleeping on a hotel bed beneath which lurked a “quilt monster”(kind of like the “quilt” version of the Michelin Man) with a “quilt-face.” Awaking the next morning, her face was “quilted” too! (I slept under Grandmother Williams’ quilts in North Wilkesboro, but there was no malevolence connected to them, only the work of loving hands).

I remember us passing over a high railway bridge near sunset. Looking back and up at that memory from an “almost-third-person” present ground level, I can see the engine and cars passing by in silhouette.

When we passed over a small stream,I looked out the window and down, seeing a startled turtle hurriedly sliding (probably a “slider”) off a log into the water. It would have had no reason to fear me,as I was much less scary than a train,but sliders are pretty much frightened of everything. Some turtles live a long time, so that one may still be with us. While smaller turtles become bigger turtles, little boys become men.

I will always remember that “triangle” transcribed across the Carolinas by Joe and me on the day we were passengers on board trigonometry, itself!

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