Clyde: Just call me Clyde Van Winkle

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 7, 2022

“Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.

Old now is earth, and none may count her days”

— Hymn by Clifford Box, 1926


Once upon a time, not so very long ago, in this very town, there lived a remarkable would-be eccentric man; a simple good natured fellow. People were astounded by his redoubtable words and metaphors.

His house, by the track, was old enough, for no one lived there but him. He kept things because there is no law against it. There was a time, whenever he went walking about the dear old town, he was surrounded by children and tourists who asked him stupid questions. Some doubted the truth of his answers. He declared, however, it was easier to help others than to keep his own house in order.

Despite his best, indefatigable efforts, his fences were always falling to pieces.

Weeds were sure to grow in his fields more quickly than anywhere else. He knew their names but he didn’t give names to his chickens. Cat birds and June bugs ate most of his ripe figs and he didn’t seem to mind. It seemed rain began to fall only when he was just about to start some painting or outside work. He wore cast-off clothes to stroll about barefooted in the lower garden.

One endless hot, humid summer in the old part of the day about 4:20 as he crawled under the apple tree that George Raynor planted, he thought he heard something call his name. His eyes closed slowly and falling into a deep sleep, the world rolled on without him. Suddenly, with a jolt, he awoke and found himself in the same spot but something felt strange and things looked overgrown all around him. Something told him this is not the same place where fireflies and cicadas linger. His knee bones ached as he arose and headed for downtown. When he entered the village from Bank Street, most everything was new and strange to him. What he thought was a short nap must have been years.

There were no familiar faces and they all just stared at him without even saying hello. Everyone was walking around aimlessly holding out in front of them a little box that they pushed with their fingers as if it told them what to do and which way to go and they talked to it like a friend. Each person had an odd looking half dog and half cat that they followed around with a little bag of something.

Scurrying around like groundhogs, these inhabitants looked oh-so peculiar with wires and plugs hanging out all over, some coming out of their ears and noses. Their clothes did not cover much and all over their skin they had pictures, in colors that hurt his eyes and what must have been foreign words.

Flags, like people, of all sizes, shapes, stripes, dots and colors flew in all directions. Where was Old Glory? Was America gone? There were papers and cups that fell from the citizens’ hands continuously, some with food hidden inside. In their other hand, they all clutched a clear bottle of fluid they sucked on like a new-born baby. Has the town well gone dry, he wondered.

Going up near the square, the clock stood still just as he remembered Norman Ingle who gave it. More empty buildings than not were covered up, some with door signs that read open. Looking west, a familiar winged monument greeted throngs to a festival kind of town common that Paul Fisher wanted.

Part of the old church tower was still there. Visitors were cavorting, jumping and sliding without holding hands. As sunset came, the quietness gave way to black boxes that boomed like thunder with lightning flashes and screams that came from certain chosen ones who stood up front like on an altar.

To the east you could still see Dunn’s Mountain has not been moved and O.O. Rufty’s great-grandchildren own a store now. Piles of discombobulated metal were on several corners stacked to make sense, but they didn’t to him.

On the walks, faded plaques written by Betty Dan Spencer were illegible, covered with silt and moss. The unforgettable smell of barbecue and hush puppies lingered on North Main Street and the Hap’s Grill sign advertised veggie burgers.

Experts with detectors were digging for the past near a building with a tower that reads about truth making you free. It used to house some kind of printing press that used to inform the public. They found a small fragment of paper that said “Ney” on it. Theaters had plays without props or costumes.

Other buildings on most every corner with crenelated towers and spires that once held crosses looked abandoned. A small sign read “Enter to Pray.” Dumpsters full of history books sat on every cul-de-sac. Museums were out of business for showing the past to the present. Diggers and diviners have been replaced with losers and lotteries. Food trucks delivered packages that were inserted by machine arms into open mouths with no choice; not like the last garden squash of summer, he thought to himself. Where was the world he knew? There were no maypops to eat. How (were we) are we to survive?

Some humans with vials and needles hid behind others looking for an easy way out. No one notices, or cares. Is cheer only found in a bottle, Mr. Peeler? They all look for a new empire with beautiful domes of progress and new homes with white walls.

Was this the new world order promised by the protesters threatening, demanding, irreprehensible, relentless chants? Dead trees with no bark sat in yellow brine waiting for forest fires on the horizon. Birds sat and watched from a distance. The honey bees and butterflies are slowly going away but the homeless, the hungry, and the lost all seem to survive.

Have I been asleep or have I lived through just another pandemic? “Would man but wake from out his haunted sleep, Earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.”

Just sign me … Clyde Van Winkle.

Clyde is an artist who lives in Salisbury.