Let me level with you. I didn’t start out the day as the sun rose on August 21 with any kind of burning case of eclipse fever. To be perfectly honest, I was actually kind of ho-hum on the whole thing. I’m not fond of other people being the arbiters of what’s in good taste, style, or going to be fun and/ or hip. Forced marches and whatnot. I was really tempted to be anti-eclipse and take a nap through totality.
Just about the time the jitters kicked in good from drinking way too much coffee that morning, a text message sounded off and my buddy asked me if I wanted to eat tacos in the back of a tienda on the edge of town. I really thought about begging off after I said yes, but wound up being glad I went because there are few things any better tasting than tacos in a tienda with a mandarin Juaritos in a glass bottle to wash it down.
He was going to call on a few customers after lunch and I’d decided I was going to cut across the countryside and see what I saw and stop if I saw something/somewhere that looked inviting. As with most of our state’s roads, the one I cut across to New Holland would’ve beat the fillings out of my teeth. If I had fillings. Thank God for Dr. Talbert keeping me in good shape growing up. It was hot and those tacos bounced around in my gut for what seemed like eternity until I got to New Holland and saw people sitting in their front yards. That’s when it dawned on me that it was indeed kind of a big deal.
I headed north, and was amazed at the number of cars parked at the Hwy. 39 truck stop beside the Interstate. I knew that my cousin from Georgia and my parents had staked out real estate in Ridge Spring, so I decided to push on another dozen miles and go there since they were in the path of totality. There were people set up everywhere to view and photograph this event. Things were kind of growing on me. Don’t confuse that with excitement – I’m not easily excitable.
Parking was easily found in downtown Ridge Spring and I was quickly able to find my people along with plenty of others ensconced in a perfectly charming little park between Main Street and the railroad track beneath the shade of some much appreciated live oak trees. There were others from Aiken there of my parents’ vintage, several of whom I hadn’t seen since the last eclipse.
Pleasantries were exchanged, and I couldn’t help but notice the “pleasant” feeling in the air around me. This was, indeed, a big deal, and hundreds of people had gathered in this little spot to picnic and watch events unfold. There wasn’t a single mention of whatever soupe du jour the media has fed us over the last couple weeks. It was just people being people. The other beauty was that there were too many people in this one little spot for the cell service, so there was a span of hours with NO PHONES. What a joy that was to experience conversation person-to-person while looking at the other party.
The moon kept eating away at the sun and finally all of the crowd that was underneath the trees stepped into the opening to watch the last sliver get gobbled down and totality take control
of the land for a few minutes. Crickets and cicadas went bonkers, and it was a strange shade of twilight. Two minutes flew by and it lit up as soon as the moon burped up that first little speck on the backside.
Stepping back under the oaks, I noticed that this woman – I’m gonna call her “Large Marge” – had skinnied on down to a string bikini during the totality and she was soaking up whatever the cosmos was throwing her way. Eclipse glasses served double duty. Those tiny little strings were screaming for mercy and almost drowned out the crickets.
People cleared out pretty quickly after light returned. It really made me wonder what the rush was for? It wasn’t like they were trying to get back to work.
I moseyed across the street to the local drug store where I noticed they had an ice cream case. A dollar and a half for two scoops, two- fiddy for four. And free homemade cookies. I forked over the buck fifty and enjoyed their A/C for a few minutes. Couldn’t help but think this little pharmacy in this little small town could be a stunt double for Mayberry.
I did some thinking on the way home as traffic was bumper-to-bumper with folks trying to get back to the Interstate and haul boogey from whence they came.
No matter your beliefs in stars, divinity, deities, God, religion, etc., I found it really, really hard to think that someone could experience what we did in the path of totality and not believe that there is SOMETHING out there in the universe one gigantic magnitude of infinity greater than we are. On the order of a blue whale and plankton. Or an elephant and an ant. Or something to a degree larger than Einstein could calculate the scope and size of.
The other thing I thought about as I approached this big little city was one of the folks there in our circle. A couple my parents’ age or thereabouts. The wife has Alzheimer’s. It’s progressing. I’ve known her, at least casually, since I was a child. She looked at me today and introduced herself to me as a complete stranger. Another couple was there are who are close friends of hers. And her husband. He’s a jam up guy. She knows him. She didn’t appear to know the rest of us. I was, at first, worried at her seeming lack of comprehension of the importance of the glasses to her eyesight and that she may damage her vision in the process.
That is a damned hideous disease. I cannot imagine it, and wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. I can see how her husband could easily get frustrated and upset more times in a day than there are numbers to count.
But he didn’t. And doesn’t. He shows more kindness and compassion towards another human being than I maybe realized was possible. And has for years. Compassion, kindness, grace, preservation of dignity, and love.
I thought about them for several hours. And thought about the whole day.
I know where my beliefs are rooted, and I’d never tell you that you had to believe what I believe.
But I witnessed a husband who loves his wife that day. Incredibly so.
And I witnessed a God that made the chickens roost in the middle of the day.
And He loves us, all of us, all the same. Believe whatever you’re so led to.
I believe I saw a lot of good in a small little town that day.
Rob Heilig was born in the old Aiken Hospital and graduated from Aiken High School and The Citadel. He scours the back roads of Aiken County in search of chili-dawgs and interesting things. Sometimes he writes about them