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Hello Darkness My Old Friend…


I grew up in a low-light community. It wasn’t designed to be a low-light community and it wasn’t called a low-light community – it just was one. There was one street light on one corner of each block in my neighborhood of dirt roads and run-down houses. It was unfortunately, the longest block in the world.

I knew this because I would come home on the streetcar when I was 7- or 8-years-old after going to the movies downtown and have to walk that one dark block to get home. It was a long time ago, when nobody was undone by a boy that age being out after dark by himself. I was basically a free-range kid, back before “free-range” became a term or a controversy.

It wasn’t as though I was coming home late in the night, but in the winter, it got dark early. My problem was that I loved the horror shows – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man, and the ever-popular Werewolf franchise. I couldn’t get my fill.

But of all the scary movie characters, the scariest of all for me was the Mummy. The Mummy was not fast, in fact he was really slow. You could easily outrun the Mummy. But he never stopped. You could run like Hell, but you couldn’t slow down. You take a nap, you wake up, and here comes the Mummy. You run into the store for a Moon Pie and a Nehi grape soda, you barely take a bite and here comes the damn Mummy. The Mummy wasn’t fast, but he was relentless.

My mom knew how the horror movies scared me, but she also knew how much I loved them, and she gave me the standard mom advice. “Remember, it’s just a movie.”

I tried to remember that. I would get off the streetcar, look down that long, dark unpaved street, take a deep breath and tell myself: “It’s just a movie.” There are no such things as vampires or werewolves or mummies.

Then I would start walking, over the creek where the alligator lived and into the darkness. At the beginning, I would be OK, but as I neared the middle point between lights, and the night got darker and more foreboding, my imagination would suddenly kick in, slap the bejesus out of my courage, and I would start running for home.

I would always arrive flush and out-of-breath. My mom would pretend she didn’t notice, and she’d ask how was the movie, and I would tell her it was good, Mom, really good.

That was obviously a long time ago. Now I live once again in a low-light community, and I like it. You tend to forget after years in the city what the stars look like on a clear night. Country folks take the darkness for granted. If you have lived for years in the city, you rediscover it, and there is a comfort in dark streets and the feel of the night.

It’s not just the darkness. There is the twilight that precedes it and the dawn that ends it. I love the neon and glitter of the city. But the nightly shift from sunshine to twilight to darkness is a joy to rediscover. And this time around, I’m not even afraid.

Mom was right. Who’s surprised?

— George Lee Cunningham

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