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Mack Williams: Christmas bulb lights and a candle

Mack Williams

I recently drove down to Yanceyville, meeting up with son, Jeremy, daughter-in-law Rose, and mother-in-law Doris to go see Christmas lights uptown, and to a smaller county community where a family has millions of lights, decorations, battery-operated Santas and Mrs. Clauses, along with running model railroads in little lit cabins. The display’s expanse requires a port-a-john; also lit inside (but not lit “decoratively”).
Since I wrote previously about Yanceyville’s lights and that other county display, I won’t write again, only to say the town’s decorations and that “extravaganza” were still shining brightly. Even the little cabin’s homespun signs were still there (a “homespun-ness” dangerously close to crossing over the threshold into something else).
Encountering the modern “Christmas-light lollapaloozas,” I naturally reflect back to my East Rowan High School years, and my driving past, sometimes stopping, at the tastefully done scenes of that man who lived past Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church and on the left.
In one, a “wooden” choir had piped-in carols, sounding very expressive despite his choir’s wooden-ness. I don’t recall his name, but perhaps you do.
Doris, at age 90, seemed to enjoy the lights despite macular degeneration. When I pointed out closeby displays, she said she saw them, and seemed to also see far distant ones along the way, not going into detail in her comments (making me think her night time “seeing” might be limited to low-level “discernment”).
On that rural road were many beautiful country homes in the distance, identifiable as those old-style country manors (the “hard-working” type, wealth not from feeding from the “silver baby spoon”).
On approach from from far off, a dim glow would be resolved into myriad patterns of lights, like the misty “glow” of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) resolved by great telescopes and time exposure photography into “diamondy” spirals.
But sometimes, the more “meager” home’s festivity vied with that of the “manor houses” for piercing the darkness. The human eye is most sensitive to red. That is why flashlights at star parties (not Hollywood) have either a red bulb or red cellophane to protect one’s achieved night vision from the blinding effect of white light when resorting to a star map or the telescope eyepiece case. Even though “red’s the thing” as far as human light sensitivity, there is that one particular shade of blue Christmas bulb which, to me, seems to reach through the darkness better than red, causing me to “freeze” in my attention, much like a deer (or a possum, minus its unfortunate, accompanying end). Those bulbs’ particular type of blue seems to evoke the coldness of glacial ice, making a chilly night even colder.
We all enjoyed our Christmas light ride, and successfully rolled Doris up the ramp and back into the light of her Christmas tree.
At Danville’s First Presbyterian Church’s (where I’m a member) Christmas Eve service, another “Christmas light” impressed me more than all of those geometric stringings which sometimes blink, bubble, and “run.”
It was the light of the individually-held candle of the Christmas Eve candlelight service, with its little horizontal paper halo. Holding this candle at the improper angle can result in a warming sensation passing over the threshold into pain, then a stepping back across that threshold as the wax dries (and leaves a waxy mess on choir robe and carpet).
After the church’s inside lights are switched off, the intimate light of that held candle seems to be surrounded intimately by the great darkness and great time of the universe (even in a safe place like church).
Just out of that candle’s reach, in the surrounding darkness one’s mind’s eye can see many candle-and-torch illuminated things, some of which are: paleolithic cave paintings, a monk painstakingly copying, British soldiers listening to “Stille Nacht” from “a trench across the way,” and a stable containing donkeys, cows, a mother, a father, and a manger cradling a baby.

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