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Mack Williams: ‘Books’ of learning

Mack Williams

I recently sang at the Homecoming of a church where I attended for a time while living in Caswell County.

The guest speaker, son of the congregation spoke of his great-great-grandfather, who donated the land for the church’s  present site sometime around 1850.

He talked of the great urban places of the world where he, himself had lived, having spent his formative years not far from the shadow of that rural church’s spire. It was a veritable litany (lower-case “litany,” not upper-case “churchly” one) of cities near and far, some across different oceans!

But he kept coming back to things learned in boyhood just up the road from that country church (not in a vale, but along Hwy158 West).

When speaking of the world’s great places, his voice rang; but when talking of his rural “classroom,” his voice’s volume decreased , almost reverently, and he choked up a little, his eyes becoming shinier from the welling up of tears.

I guess nowadays we’re not supposed to call attention to gender; but a man’s choking up and crying affects me more than that of a woman doing the same. In the case of men, I almost join them. When Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) cried with hunger while trying to dig up that radish to nibble on, I wasn’t effected half as much as when Rhett  Butler (Clark Gable), comforted by Melanie (Olivia de Havilland), was sobbing and blaming himself for Scarlett having taken a dive down the stairs.

So, in light of that, when the minister’s eyes became shinier with “liquid,” so did mine!

He said the old homeplace lay down a gravel road behind the church, not visible from the road. There, his great-great- grand-father made his entire life, learning those “life things” which truly matter! He especially mentioned the great inspiring oak in that yard, where, one day his great-great-grandfather gazed Heavenward past its boughs and gave himself to the Lord ( there’s a monument in Germany where Martin Luther was almost stuck by lightning and similarly inspired).

So after the Homecoming service (and the food), I had to travel the gravel road, myself to see the that long-departed gentleman’s “life school!”

Passing woods, I arrived at a clearing with an unoccupied frame house of 1930s-40s vintage, a vacant corn crib, a vacant field, and an old log cabin appearing to be of the guest speaker’s particular ancestor’s “vintage.”

It looked as if a Doric column of El Karnak Temple could have just fit inside each of the yard’s massive trees (similar to the “fit-within-another” thing about Organ Lutheran and Grace Lower Stone Reformed).

In the long-abandoned corn crib, my nose detected no extremely stale odors of corn, nor smut (corn fungus, nothing vulgar).

The old cabin was used for storage. Through one window I saw an old Jim Gardner political sign, and an old “china-plate” style flue cover fixed into place. Some old homeplace cabins were covered over within later construction, but this “heart” was still separate, out in the open, neither encaged, nor enribbed.

The field was greatly overgrown and static, its last “rotation” tied to its last-harvested crop.

The speaker’s ancestor’s “Salvation tree” stood out in both height and width from all others, some of its “tree-trunk-width” limbs curved like candleabra.

In bare ground spaces were many quartz rocks (like my Old Concord Road boyhood yard). The “antiquity” of things there made me think one rock was an arrowhead; but when I flipped it over, it wasn’t.

The area reminded me of a book placed back on the shelf after a man of a past century had gleaned its knowledge.

I wondered that if I remained, I could open that book again, and learn what he had learned.

But I remembered I had learned those things long ago, from another “book,” back on the Old Concord Road.

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