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Mack Williams: Cow Pastures, Comets, and Car Sales

The other night I was headed up US Highway 86 back to Danville from visiting with my son Jeremy in Yanceyville.

Closer to Danville, I became aware of a “pulsing” in the sky, especially in those darker areas of my route. After eliminating the car’s electrical system and my “own”, I realized it was the path of a skyward-pointed searchlight, triggering my memory of such light years before ’48.

It was while I was in high school at East Rowan that one evening I had seen a similar light arcing through the sky above W.A. Cline’s cow pasture.

Having before seen car dealerships in the Salisbury area using searchlights for advertisement, I took this to be just that.

I guess it’s hard to beat that “high-in-the-sky” advertising, since there are no competing signs there except nature’s “sunset signs” which warn the sailor about tomorrow’s weather.

After the present-day car sale advertising by way of searchlight had connected me to that 1960s version of the same thing, but in a different place, I traveled another link there back to 1957.

In the spring of that year, the newly-discovered comet Arend-Roland reached a level of brightness as to become visible to the naked eye after sunset.

I have seen pictures of it since then in astronomy books, but despite being only 6 years old at the time, I have a special “live” memory of it as well, just like I will always have a special “live” memory of the total solar eclipse of August 21st, 2017).

When I saw Comet Arend-Roland, it appeared as a small “comma” of light hanging in the western sky above W.A. Cline’s cow pasture. The time was past twilight, into nighttime, as our family observed the comet.

For some reason, I guess the passage of time, itself, my mind’s eye picture of our family has taken on the look of an old woodcut, like reproductions of old woodcuts in astronomy books depicting observers of such awe-inspiring,even scary things like the great Leonid Meteor Storm of 1833.

So in my “woodcut” memory, familial silhouettes stand out against a sky filled with stars and that little “comma” above the Cline’s cow pasture. Mr.Cline’s gravel-hauling truck doesn’t show because it may have been parked out of view behind a gravel pile, but that’s for the best, since something that modern doesn’t fit chronologically(or size-wise) into a woodcut.

Despite the fact the late 60s car sale searchlight was in that same area, it would have been grossly inaccurate to describe it as a “line-of-sight” astronomical event.

The tail of 1986’s Halley’s Comet “snared” a memory of my mother Lorraine Williams. Because of outside light interference, I packed up my telescope, and transported scope, mother, and me to a dark sky area on Caswell County’s Hatchett Road. When I pass by that spot today, the sight of the later-built Dillard Middle School makes me think of my mother and me with Halley’s Comet (the outside lights there now would have made viewing impossible).

Then there was a friend, the late Mr. Edward Jones, his memory caught in the tail of 1997’s Comet Hale Bopp.He greatly enjoyed looking through my telescope in my front yard when I lived on US Route 158 West in Caswell County.I mentioned in a prior column that some years later, someone broke into his home, robbed and murdered him.

A comet’s tail would seem as likely as a hook on a line to “catch” a myriad of experiences which then accompany it on its journey(bringing to mind the old Looney Tunes cartoon, in which moon, planets, and stars get stuck to Bugs Bunny’s flying saucer).

We all have memories which become associated with places, people, and times.The uniqueness of each of us and our mental associations challenges any test of psychology to “figure us out,” no less so, than when in one breath, and among other things, we speak of cow pastures, comets, and car sales.

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