Mack Williams: Old 86
After a Black Friday lunch with my daughter Rachel and mother-in-law Doris in Danville, I decided to give Doris a little sight-seeing by taking the “traffic island turn” from US Hwy 86 onto its predecessor (Old US Hwy 86)in taking her back to her Yanceyville home. “Old 86” was the only road to Danville from Yanceyville when Doris came there in the 1940s. “New 86’s” once freshly-exposed, road-cut rock has since become gray-brown from years of staining by the ground water’s dissolved iron oxide.
The old path is more scenic than the newer, straighter one, so “the way the crow used to fly” is sometimes better!
The first mile was so sparsely populated that Doris commented: “It’s pretty thin here!” Barren kudzu vines filled massive trees (but we know full well life waits within to later provide “cover gone wild”!).
Random, sparsely scattered golden leaves remained doggedly attached to some branches to resemble mica and pyrite flecks in an afternoon sun minused “daylight saving time.” Their bright-yellow “mineralescence” spoke of the ease of foolishly mistaking some similarly-bright mineral for gold.
In the little community of Providence, I remembered Jim Millner Plumbing. When I was a social worker at Caswell County DSS, a single mother in my caseload had two sons who stole tools from Jim Millner’s truck. The family lived on Providence’s Easy Street ( but ease was something foreign to their lives).
We passed an old gym, once part of a private school named Piedmont Academy. A septuagenarian teacher there, Mrs. Ruby Hodges, annually requested me and my late wife Diane to perform in their annual Spring variety show. One year, Diane and I performed an old Carol Burnette Show skit in which I was Tim Conway’s character, Mr. Tudball, and Diane was “Mrs. a’ Whiggins.” Miss Ruby (“Miss,” a Southern thing, even though she had been most properly married, and widowed) always paid us with a freshly-made sweet potato pie. Since her death some years ago, no place exists on this side of the grave where the likes of Miss Ruby Hodges’ sweet potato pies can be found! Doris and I reminisced about mine and Diane’s variety show performance.
We passed Purley United Methodist Church where I was choir director in the late 1970s. Pastor Clay Smith prided himself on growing vegetables naturally (minus Sevin), giving me some one summer. My opinion of their deliciousness was corroborated by scores of miniscule, mandibular-shaped “nibblings” implying “others” found them delicious too!
We proceeded past the former home of Mrs. Pauline Hatchett. Everyone spoke of her late husband Hines’ true “gentlemanliness.” Although Hines wasn’t German (though his first name sounded like “Heinz”), the house epitomized “Teutonic” beauty in its furnishings of good, simple taste.
Then came the boarded up “W.D.Pleasant’s Store.” The late Mr. Pleasant once displayed a renowned knife collection there, consisting of the kinds of knives carried by “country” men. I imagine it remains in the family.
Continuing, I saw the home of the late Bobbie Daniel, Purley Church’s organist when I was choir director there. She had an off-and-on-bout with cancer marked with alternating remissions. Tragically, Bobbie’s cancer was, overall more relentless than remiss in its dealings with her.
Next, John Miller Pleasant’s home (sometimes Southern men, like Southern women, use three-word names). John’s surname is a complement to (and compliment of) his personality. His wife, Mable passed away not long ago. John plans to have both hips replaced, but there’s no replacing Mable.
Doris then mentioned a stucco house she and her husband Hoyt had first lived in after marrying, saying it was in that area we were passing through, not far from where Old 86 connects up with New 86; but we never saw it, and she said it had probably been torn down.
Doris said the mail carrier along that route years ago was infamously known for “previewing” everyone’s mail, be it from family, friends, bill collectors, etc. You might say that even in those long-ago years, he could have gone “paperless,” after a “Mission Impossible-style” committing to memory of the contents of his mail sack (minus the “self-destruct” part), then imparting the information to everyone on his route in the long-passed, age-old tradition of “word of mouth!”
Turning back onto New 86, I realized that the little side trip into Doris’ memories had mostly become a “Robert Ballard-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute-type expedition” into mine.
After all, consider my life’s places of residence: Rowan 1951-74, Caswell 1974-2008, Danville 2008-present.
I guess I’m just a “Good ol’ Rowan-Caswell-Danville boy!”