December 18, 2010 7:54:00 PM
Birney Imes - [email protected]
"The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper."
-- Eden Phillpotts
Late Wednesday afternoon as I was driving to Walmart, there was a bit on the radio about John Hammond. If you''ve ever enjoyed the music of Billie Holiday, Bennie Goodman, Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen, you have John Hammond to thank. Hammond, who died in 1988, would have been 100 on this day.
The fabled talent scout ignored his bosses at Columbia Records when he signed a skinny kid with a nasal sound from Minnesota. Hammond produced the kid''s first album for $402 and called it simply "Bob Dylan." Columbia record execs called the enterprise "Hammond''s folly."
I''d signed on for a musical undertaking of sorts: to ring the bell at Walmart for the Salvation Army. The Rotary gang does it for one day during the holiday season and I always try to get on the list. It''s one way I get into the holiday spirit -- standing for an hour in weather only a polar bear could love, saying hello and Merry Christmas to the shoppers who happen to look your way.
The wind started blowing the minute I took the bell from Bill Walker. Overhead the clouds had arranged themselves into puffy confections with peach fringing; the moon, almost directly overhead, played peek-a-boo. Across the way, on the other side of 45, the green and red lights from Sonic and the Cellular South building twinkled, adding to the holiday mood.
What better place to watch -- and be part of -- the human parade than the entrance to Walmart. Parents gave their children a bill or loose change and sent them my way. A beautiful little blonde Mennonite girl put in a dollar without looking up. A bouncy 5-year-old decked out in a Santa hat and a red striped dress stuffed a bill into the red kettle.
"Thank you, darling," a woman said as she hurried past.
By the end of my shift the clouds had dissolved into the blackness. I turned and headed into the warmth of the store and the swirl of holiday shoppers.
Tuesday night the kids and I rode out to Caledonia to see William Darnell''s Christmas lights. Darnell, who lives just inside the town''s limits on Wolf Road had e-mailed wondering if I was going to do a Christmas light tour as I''ve done in years past.
This year I''ve not been able to do adequate research, but here''s a route you might consider: Start with the sheep and manger scene at Memorial Funeral Home near the corner of Second Avenue South and Eighth Street. Go east on Second and take a left on Ninth Street to Military Road. On Military Road, check out Joe Jackson''s balcony display at Eveningside Apartments.
If you need to stop for warm drinks and it''s before 6 p.m., there''s Beans and Cream at Brickerton. Just past the Country Club take a left on Ridge Road. Four or five miles, after you cross Jess Lyons, Ridge will disappear off to the left and the main road becomes Cherokee, which T''s into Wolf.
Go left on Wolf toward Caledonia. Darnell''s house sits back from the road on the left. Had the kids not wanted to be back in time for the Hallelujah chorus at the end of the 8 o''clock performance of the Messiah we would have continued on into Caledonia proper, which always decks out for the holiday season.
We turned around and sped back toward town. I dropped the kids off at the Catholic Church and parked the car. One of the ushers motioned them into the sanctuary just as the choir began the chorus that is the climax of Handel''s oratorio. If limited to a one-word description of that performance, my choice would be "thrilling." The resonance and power of the choir members'' voices reverberated from the walls and ceiling. The sound seemed to envelop us all, infusing everyone there with the spirit of this most magic of seasons.
Birney Imes is the publisher of The Commercial Dispatch. E-mail him at [email protected]
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.