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Mack Williams: Some entertainment

Just the other day, I was with my son Jeremy and his employer. I was wearing a “repro” historical hat at the time. Jeremy and his boss are sometimes involved in Revolutionary War re-enactments; and since pirates and Revolutionary War soldiers wore tri-corn hats, I impersonated Robert Newton for them. Newton was the Englishman who originated the classic “pirate talk” in his performance in the 1952 movie “Blackbeard the Pirate” (Ahhhhrrr).

Following my impersonation, I said to myself: “Bernard Williams (my father) is still alive,” as I realized I had also performed an impersonation of him.

Please let me explain: my father’s speaking voice sounded nothing like Robert Newton’s Cornish-derived pirate accent. I mean that a goodly portion of my father’s enjoyment of, and manner of social interaction with his fellow man, is still alive in me.

I remember my father doing some voice impersonations, and for that matter, Joe does some too, as well as my son Jeremy, along with me, as stated at the beginning of this piece.

I once made up my own answering machine greetings using my impersonations of Johnny Cash and Neil Young. Johnny (to “Folsom prison Blues”): “Well there you go a callin’, and looks like we’re not home. Kindly leave your message, on the telephone, and we’ll try to get back to you, though time keeps draggin’ on. Just kindly leave your message, on the telephone.”

And old Neal (to “Hey Hey, My My”): “Hey, hey, my, my. We’ll get back to you bye and bye. Please leave your name, don’t fade away. My, my, hey, hey.”

I enjoy mimicking “John Boy and Billy Show” characters (one “character” to “another”) and public singing at the drop of a hat (or hat just tilted a bit).

I have childhood memories of being with my father when he would be saying something funny to or having an interesting conversation with the mechanic at the auto garage, Mr. William L. Broadway at his insurance office, an employee at A&P, Spence Hatley at The Music Mart, or Grover and Faye Roseman at their grocery. Although my son Jeremy is a grown man, the other day it was like I was my father, Jeremy was me, and Jeremy’s boss was like the friend my father was visiting and entertaining.

I remember my father showing an anagram he had made about John F. Kennedy, but well before the Dallas tragedy (my father was a life-long Republican, as are many foothill and mountain people).

Another example (mentioned in a previous column) of my father’s entertaining wit, was when upon seeing an insect on his hospital food plate, he told the nurse the doctor had forbidden him meat.

Even with the quickest of wits, there is slapstick, as my father sometimes dislodged his upper dental plate displaying it upon his tongue. Fortunately, he decided to forego (would the past tense be “forewent?”) Moe Howard’s variety of slapstick: eye-poking, nose-tweaking, and head bopping.

It is said that when we speak the name of the dead, they live again. How much more so when we write of them and people read it. My father is sitting here; his wit is “still in the room.”

October’s shadows are angling down again to November 5th, my father’s 1966 death date, for me, a “personal solstice,” to be gotten through with quickly, like the year’s shortest day, December 21st. But unlike that short-lived December day, November 5th has, in some years seemed to linger a little before moving on.

The other day, while locking up the old Norfolk & Western caboose at the Danville Science Center, I paused as a Norfolk Southern freight passed. I felt the rumble of thousands of tons of rolling metal.

The crumbling bits of bone in a grave at Saint Paul’s Lutheran’s cemetery don’t do my father justice.

He is much more substantial than the tonnage of a passing freight train; and in the lives of each of his descendants, be they old, young, or in between, he truly keeps “rolling on down the line.”

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