Mack Williams: An overgrown memory

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 12, 2023

One recent day, I visited a life-long friend of my late wife Diane (and almost life-long friend of mine). Diane and she had worked in the school system; or from what some of my current school teacher friends tell me about their jobs, “Labored in the school system” might be a more accurate term.

On the way, I drove through beautiful countryside, passing fenced-in fields, many of which were also “fenced-in” by groves of “autumnally glowing” trees. Some of these fields contained horses and ruminants (cows, cud chewers). But since cows and horses don’t compete with each other, they could be kept in the same area. Speaking Biblically, the horses there had “lain down with the cow,” as far as the compatibility of their nature is concerned.

And speaking of horses; not long after passing a pair of fenced-in horses, I came to a life-sized statue of a horse. It was rearing up (by virtue of the sculptor) on its hind legs. The sculpted horse’s length had been transformed into height, its forelegs reaching for the sky! Those of you who were also raised on “The Lone Ranger TV Series” remember that part of the trailer where, just after the narrator says: “A hearty Hi-Yo Silver,” the Ranger’s horse, Silver strikes a similar pose at the top of a rocky hill. Later, at my old friend’s house, I asked her if this were the grave of someone’s beloved horse, and she said: “No! They just love horses!”

And back to the Lone Ranger: in the ’50s TV series, it really was “Hi-Yo Silver,” not “Hi-Ho Silver,” even if “Hi-Yo” sort of resembles what Brunhilde shouts in Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries.” To me, “Hi-Ho” too much resembles the work song of “The Seven Dwarfs”( which, “technically,” should be “The Seven Dwarves”).

Along the way, I saw and remembered a “sunken house” built by a couple over 40 years ago. Those “into-the-earth” houses hold the generated heat in the winter and rely on the coolness of the damp earth to provide some ground-based air conditioning in the summer. Linville Caverns advertises its temperature around 55 degrees year-round. I’ve read the same about the grave, but Linville Caverns has many more sights, and more room.

Across the way from the “sunken house,” I saw the remains of an old brick grammar school barely showing through the mass of trees , bushes, and weeds which have grown up around it. Broken windows had shards of glass still attached, reflecting blue sky, clouds, and the entangling wild foliage.

In the thick, surrounding trees, a few left-over cicadas were beginning to “pipe up.” I imagined that back in the summertime, their nighttime racket must have echoed down the old school’s resonant wooden floors where the feet of school children once “rumbled!”

If you were to walk over to one of those fragmentary windows, you could compare and contrast the reflection of sky, sun, arboreal life, and your wondering face with those empty, broken-out glass pane spaces, where a look inside reveals: water-warped wood, mold, and rot, nothing there catching a hopeful glint of sunlight and reflecting it back.

This was the same school where, as a part of my county social work job years before, I had counseled children referred for behavior problems. Some of this disruptive behavior was not solely their fault. Their young lives, like those current forgotten windows had been shattered, with others trying back then to do what we could in our small way to repair the damage done. Unlike the abandoned school, they were “the living,” so they could be mended, while their old school’s future was just more loosened brick, more shattered windows, more decomposing floors, eventually leaving no foothold.

I drove down the old side drive where the school buses had once been parked. Tall, dried, yellow weeds almost the same shade and height of the long-gone busses grow where those vehicles of mass-childhood-transit were once parked. A single trailer, with a mown yard and the sign “Beware of the Dog” was the only evidence of life there. Further evidence of life suddenly appeared from around the corner of the trailer in the form of a very angry pit bull! I, of course remained in my car, drove back to the highway and toward home.

The old school is several decades dead; but hopefully, its former children are progressing in their adult lives, despite the unexpected glitch, here and there.

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