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Mack Williams: Banked History

Mack Williams

Recently my friend Rita and I toured a very interesting business-house museum, at one time, the State Bank of Milton, North Carolina.
It served as both bank, and the bank manager’s family’s home, dating back to 1860.
Jim, friend and co-worker from when we were social workers at the Caswell County Department of Social Services, is a docent there. His fianceé Angela started the museum in April, 2017. Jim said “She has a knack for it.” There are people with college degrees in that subject who have not achieved what she’s achieved with her “knack!”
There is a wealth of items from that time period. Those every day wardrobes, tables, vanities, chairs, etc. make their modern-day equivalents seem like evolution in reverse — “gone to seed.”
Jim said when the people found out it was “open for business” (as museum, not bank) they provided period items for display, paraphrase: “Open it, and they will provide!” “Open it and they will come” also applies, for when I first saw Angela’s Milton Renaissance Foundation videos, I knew I must see the old bank. Although the Milton Museum wasn’t open during my Caswell years (1974-2008), I still felt the overwhelming need to see something I had “missed.”
Jim said docents have to be quick on their toes because some people pull open open drawers to see inside. I thought to myself that they’ve forgotten that in a house museum the vanity is empty (the “drawers” having long departed the drawers).
Heading upstairs, I clasped the saucer-shaped Thomas Day newel post cap like a discuss thrower, pressing down to propel myself up the steps (Newton’s Third Law of Motion, the “rocket” one).
As I ascended, the light from upper windows touched me, and I stepped into a hall with adjacent and opposite rooms, each a study in bright, slanting afternoon light, each antebellum window a picture frame highlighting varied “scenes” of white clouds, blue sky, dressers, swivel mirrors, chairs, beds, trunks, and very old books. The covers of children’s books had drawings of children dressed in the clothes of the day, making them resemble little ladies and gentlemen. Those rooms were like art gallery pictures (Mussorgsky could have composed something about each of these too).
I told Jim of Rowan’s Old Stone House and what visits there had meant to me growing up. Jim and Angela spoke excitedly about school groups having already begun field trips to the Milton Museum. Just like the Old Stone House, there is a “pristine” aura there (in life, we’re sometimes messy, but in a house museum, former lives seem pristine).
A prior resident converted the old bank vault into a bathroom, its metal door two inches thick. Angela calls it “the “safest bathroom in North Caroilna,” (she was “speaking in pun”). The toilet roll, especially there, made me think of those novelty rolls of “greenback” toilet paper!
One room’s acoustics makes it an excellent music salon (not “saloon,” that’s something else). I couldn’t resist singing some of Schubert’s “Der Lindenbaum.” I said I would gladly live there as night watchman. Jim said the neighbors might report a “singing ghost.”
Out back was a stack of antebellum bricks, their lines of geometry looking a little “muddy.” The trees toward the Dan River contained great vines, looking much thicker than in a Johnny Weismuller movie. The Dan River was a light-brown “chocolate” line in the distance, and I was glad the old bank foundation had not been “robbed” of its security by the recent tropical storms, Florence and Michael.
I can’t forget the faces in the old displayed photographs. Looking into long-dead eyes, still “living” on photographic paper, I imagined their “essence.” Maybe some societies wisely fear the camera trapping their souls when the shutter snaps; for, gazing into those enpictured eyes, I felt I was seeing “souls on deposit” in the old Milton State Bank.

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