Category Archives: Writer’s Block

Written words on everything else.

Merle Williams: Wife, Mother, Grandma (GiGi)

Unfortunately this has been a very difficult week for my family. We lost our leader, mentor and friend. My Grandma was a remarkable woman. I miss her dearly. The following obituary was written by her son, my Dad, in her honor.

DSCN0147Merle Elizabeth Howe Williams, 86, died Tuesday, Dec. 8, after a brief illness.

Born July 17, 1929, to William Leroy and Caroline Wooten Howe, she grew up in Leaksville (Eden). She attended Leaksville High School, where she began to develop the social skills (she was a member of many clubs, a cheerleader and voted Most Popular) that endeared her to so many people throughout her life. She attended Women’s College (UNCG) but happily gave up college after she met Hal, the handsome war veteran she met at a hot dog roast in Elon. They married in 1950 and embarked on a loving relationship that kept them together for 64 years, until Hal’s death in 2014.

The couple settled in Reidsville, where Hal began his career in the retail furniture business, and Merle became a stay-at-home-mom caring for three sons. In 1972, they moved to Durham where Hal managed his own store, Riverview Furniture and Interiors. Merle would later join the business as an interior decorating consultant and accessory buyer. They retired to Reidsville in 2006 after Hal sold the store.

Merle enjoyed more than anything else in her life activities with her family, which included three sons, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Play dates with her great-grandchildren filled her with joy.

She and Hal traveled the world extensively, and Merle’s favorite places to visit after retirement were in the Blue Ridge mountains. She loved to browse shops in quaint mountain villages and was a shopper extraordinaire. That went hand in hand with her favorite time of year, the Christmas season.

Merle was a master at finding unique, fun gifts, and the family Christmas gathering was for her the highlight of every year. Her exquisite decorating skills and impeccable taste were never more on display than at the wonderland home she created. Children and adults alike were delighted and amazed upon seeing what she had done year after year. Her collection of Santas, many acquired during her world travels, was always much admired. Visitors wouldn’t find a “tacky” thing, unless it was intended in her mischievous, playful way to get laughs.

Merle also enjoyed flower gardening and cooking, and meal time events, large or small, brought her great joy. “Let’s have a little Bloody Mary,” she’d say, and then it was time to eat.

Throughout her life, Merle attended church faithfully and was a member of Woodmont Methodist in Reidsville.

She is survived by sons, Bob Williams and fiancé Lea Anne Lamb of Greensboro and Steve Williams and wife Mary Lynn of Reidsville; grandchildren, Brooks Williams and wife Melissa of Whitsett; Kellie DeLapp and husband Jeremy of Reidsville; Garrett Williams and wife Becca of Matthews; and Neal Williams of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Merle had four great-grandchildren, Ella Kate and Kassi Mae DeLapp of Reidsville, Carolina Brooke Williams of Whitsett and Benjamin Reid Williams of Matthews.

She was preceded in death by a son, David Reid Williams, and six siblings.

The family welcomes friends to join them at 10 a.m. Friday prior to services at 11 a.m. at Woodmont United Methodist Church and other times at the Reidsville home. There will be a private burial ceremony at Reidlawn Cemetery

The Rev. Morris Brown will officiate the services at the church and cemetery. Memorials may be made in Merle’s memory to Woodmont Methodist Church.

The family would like to thank the staffs of Cone Hospital where she spent her final two days and the many health care professionals who assisted her later in life.

Online condolences can be made at

To send flowers or a memorial gift to the family of Merle Elizabeth Howe Williams please visit our Sympathy Store.


A Poem for Granddad


We are proud to say that we are your
Future. Your spirit is now in good hands.
We are the living life lessons imparted
From a very special, resilient man.

We value your industrious example,
And your inventive approach.
In every conversation,
You reflected the shared dignity
Of whomever you engrossed.

We are now the speakers of your stories,
Listeners who recorded your treasured past.
We captured every compelling message,
From a life that was both varied and vast.

You told us stories of the circus.
A Depression-era runaway,
Venturing just to be.
You told us how you jumped from planes.
Circling in on the earth,
Young and free.
You told us how you escaped the Ardennes.
And left the battlefield
Questioning the hurt,
That war forces us to see.

Do not worry, do not fear.
The love amongst us all
Will always keep you near.
We built many memories together,
Like you built your family and
Riverview store.
They are vast and lasting,
Touching us all to the core.

We rode in your blue truck,
And played on your warehouse floor.
We watched basketball games,
And cheered for a Blue Devil score.
We walked the sandy beaches
And ventured on an Italian tour.
We did so many things
We had never done before.

We charmed Charm City,
As you searched the Inner Harbor
For the perfect gift.
Wanting to buy something special
For the sweet wife that you missed.

Head of our family tree.
We couldn’t have had a better
Promoter, teacher or friend.
You showed us love,
And all that it means.

We are proud to say that we are your
Future. Do not fret,
Your lovely wife is in good hands.
We are stewards of your teachings,
Passing on all that you helped us understand.

We love you.

Hal Williams: Husband, Father, Granddad

Unfortunately this has been a very difficult week for my family. We lost our leader, mentor and friend. My Granddad was a remarkable man. I miss him dearly. The following obituary was written by his son, my Dad, in his honor. 

1255215_profile_picHal Lawson Williams, 88, died Tuesday, Feb. 25, at Hospice of Rockingham County after a three-year battle with cancer.

Born Aug. 1, 1925, to Gordon and Cassie Williams, he grew up in rural Rockingham and Caswell counties during the Depression-era hard times. He changed schools often but developed a love for books and adventure. He once worked as an usher for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in Sarasota, Fla., but his mother’s protestations eventually persuaded him to come home.

Hal’s youthful endeavors came to an end when he was drafted into the Army in January 1944 and sent to Camp Croft, S.C., where he endured 17 weeks of basic infantry and anti-tank training. He volunteered for jump school at Fort Benning, Ga., and made the qualifying parachute jumps and then volunteered for Riggers School, thinking that packing parachutes would be safer. But the Army instead sent him to a school where he learned Morse code messaging and radio communications. Eventually he was shipped as a replacement to England and assigned to the 194th Glider Infantry of the 17th Airborne Division.

That got him into the fight in Bastogne, Belgium, and eventually into the Battle of the Bulge with the 517th Signal Company. Hal said he was lucky that he was helping set up message centers, because the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the front-line troops, and as he wrote in a memoir, he “witnessed the indescribable horrors of warfare.” He was discharged in January 1946, sent back to Fort Bragg and hitchhiked home.
After the war, he went to work for Hastings Furniture Co. in Reidsville and enrolled in Elon College to study business. In 1950, he married Woman’s College student Merle Elizabeth Howe, and they embarked on a loving relationship that kept them together for 64 years. Hal’s successful business career took off after he managed one in a chain of State Furniture stores in downtown Reidsville, and the Winston-Salem based company promoted him to general manager of all the stores, including one on Elm Street in Greensboro.

In 1972, he got a chance to operate his own business, Riverview Furniture and Interiors, in Durham. The retail store survived the trend of big-box furniture marketing that forced many independent stores in the Triangle area to fail. Hal knew what to buy at the High Point Market (he never missed attending one) and how to manage inventory, and he worked hard to cultivate repeat customers. Merle would later join the business as an interior decorating consultant and accessory buyer. They retired to Reidsville in 2006 after Hal sold the store, with the stipulation that the buyer would keep all of his employees.

When Hal wasn’t working in his store, he enjoyed his family, which included three sons. He helped coach their Little League teams and took them on vacation trips to games in Washington and Baltimore. He became an avid Baltimore Orioles fan and followed the team by watching every TV game he could in his retirement years. He also loved ACC basketball, and after all those years in Durham, Duke became his favorite team.

During retirement he also became interested in U.S. foreign policy, paying special attention to the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, a move he did not favor. He did extensive reading on the subject and wrote a paper about the neoconservatives who pushed for the war.

Throughout his life, Hal attended church faithfully and was a member of Woodmont Methodist in Reidsville. He was a compassionate man who reached out to the underprivileged. It is said that he never met a stranger. His sense of humor and desire to communicate with people and show interest in their lives played a large role in his business success.

Hal is survived by his wife, Merle Elizabeth Williams of the home; sons, Bob Williams of Greensboro and Steve Williams and wife Mary Lynn of Reidsville; grandchildren, Brooks Williams and wife Melissa of Whitsett; Kellie DeLapp and husband Jeremy of Reidsville; Garrett Williams and wife Becca of Matthews; Neal Williams and wife Anna of Astoria, N.Y.
Hal had four great-grandchildren, Ella Kate and Kassie Mae DeLapp of Reidsville, Carolina Brooke Williams of Whitsett and Benjamin Reid Williams of Matthews.

He was preceded in death by a son, David Reid Williams, and a brother, Lawrence Williams.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Woodmont Methodist Church. Following that, there will be a private burial ceremony at Reidlawn Cemetery. The Rev. Morris Brown will officiate the services.

The family welcomes friends to join them from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Wilkerson Funeral Home in Reidsville and other times at the home.

Memorials may be made in Hal’s memory to Woodmont Methodist Church and The Salvation Army.

The family would like to thank the staffs of Moses Cone Annie Penn Hospital and Hospice of Rockingham County for their dedicated services and kindness during Hal’s final days and the many health care professionals who attended to his long-term treatment.

Online condolences can be made at

The Big Recommit

Since the devastatingly boring Super Bowl, the pages of Formulate Infinity have been silent. That is about to change, starting with this post on re-commitment.

I’m not sure if it was the birth of my first baby, that I am turning 34 this year, or that  I am just a prime target for self-inflicted punishment. Maybe it was watching Pearl Jam kick out the jams in Charlotte without compromise. My generation’s musical representatives reconnecting me to my youthful hopes and aspirations. Whatever the source of inspiration, sometime in early November I decided to recommit myself to some lifelong interests.  These pursuits include everything from writing (this blog) to playing music again.

For the average person, there are major hurdles to pursuing what you enjoy. The first hurdle is economic. America has one of the most productive work forces on this earth because we commit ourselves to long hours to get the job done.  I often find my work bleeding into the time I spend at home. Technology has become mobile and spread a “work from anywhere” ethos. This has only made the problem more pervasive. That, and the fact that most of us now need two jobs to survive, has put many folk’s lifelong interests and hobbies on hold.

I will always work in the field of public education because I believe in the intrinsic value of working for the public good. Our society, however, has yet to reward our hard-working teachers monetarily for the sacrifices they make in the name of raising the nation’s children. When I am not busy helping these teachers use technology in their classrooms, I am busy teaching two online classes from home. I truly enjoy teaching children across our great state but sometimes I wish the money I make from doing it wasn’t so necessary.

The second major hurdle is life itself. Things happen that derail our commitments. A family member gets sick. A friend in need demands our attention. We sacrifice our time to help others. I have experienced this with my grandfather. It is way more important to live life than write about it. I have spent the last several weekends visiting him and praying for him to recover from a devastating fall. While doing this, I feel an intense guilt that I am spending more time with my family because of tragedy. We have all rallied in the name of helping both my grandparents. I love my family dearly and it will be a long time before I let work and other life pursuits push them aside. That is a young man’s move. Now that I have a family of my own, I know the proper life order of things.

Hurdles, like the one’s I mentioned above, aren’t necessarily excuses but they can veer us off the path we’ve paved for ourselves when it comes to pursuing self-imposed goals.  For that reason, I think it is much harder to lose track of those pursuits if you put them in writing. It is one of the main reasons I started this blog. For this reason, I am listing the things I want to continue to work on and improve upon as the year 2014 moves forward.

Here it is writing:

  1. Family: First and foremost, I commit myself to being a family man. The sharing of baby boy with family and friends has been one of life’s great rewards. Next to meeting and marrying my one true love, there is nothing compared to the feeling I get when holding our new bundle of joy. I want to make sure I honor these life blessings by calling, visiting and hugging those I love more often.
  2. Health: If I am truly committed to my family, then it is important that I also recommit myself to healthy living. While I have always been a fairly healthy eater, I am making an effort to moderate other things like drink and sweets. I am also exercising more. I am happy to report that I just finished my first month of Insanity workouts. It’s amazing how much better one can feel when you establish a daily exercise routine.
  3. Writing:  My recommit to writing, with this blog, is obviously in full effect. I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts, opinions and memories, even if it has been for a limited audience. Writing often is how you improve your craft. It has been a long time since the days when I used to scribble poetry into a spiral notebook, but I feel that I have reconnected with that young version of myself by maintaining this blog. While I hope to write a book someday, this blog will help me prepare for the moment when I am ready to pursue it full tilt.
  4. Music: To me, playing music is an extension of writing because I often play to channel my own self-expression. While it is difficult to carve out the time, I have been lucky in this category. My friend Jan recently loaned me an electric guitar and I am now playing and recording with it. My new MacBook Pro makes this so enjoyable. I’ve even found a way to turn my iPhone into an effects pedal. Very cool. Just got to keep it in headphone land so I don’t wake baby boy, lol.

Hopefully, this list will help me remain accountable to these pursuits. No matter what, number one will always be number one.  The other re-commitments should hold up but it will be a challenge.  One day at a time, living life to the fullest should do the trick.

1968: The Year the Country Broke

D-Day InvasionMy appreciate for all things history comes naturally. I’ve always been drawn to stories from the past. Perhaps it stems from the tales my Granddad often shares from his World War II days. The fact that I can draw a straight line from his surviving the Battle of the Bulge to my own upbringing mystifies me to this day.  Looking back at history also requires one to have an opinion. My Granddad is never shy to give his viewpoint about what was right and wrong about that war.  From his admiration of Eisenhower to his disdain for Patton, he emphasized the need to go beyond simple glorification for those that called the shots and sent young men to die. For instance, he is often critical of the senseless brutality of the D-Day invasion. Too many historians take for granted the lives that were permanently disrupted in that first wave of Nazi gunfire. In doing so, my Granddad argues, they offer very little counterpoint to the operation’s necessity.

Williams classroomOn this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am again thinking about history and that line I can trace backwards. As a teacher I enjoyed helping students discover the historical line that connects them to the nation’s past.  Unlike my Granddad, I kept my opinions out of the classroom conversation in favor of giving the students the forum to say what needed to be said. I never put bumper stickers on my car or let them know my political leanings. As a teacher, I felt it was necessary to allow students to test the waters of critical thinking without my interference.  Besides I always found that, with a little prodding and devil’s advocacy, students would cover all the angles when debating historical issues and events.  From the timing of the Emancipation Proclamation to the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, my students always gave their all to prove a point.

Only once did I break my class rule about the brokering of opinions. It came in an ad-libbed discussion of 1968.  A year that opened with the Tet Offensive and the mounting failure of Vietnam. It was a year when political protests turned violent and Chicago’s Democratic National Convention was cracked open with police bully clubs. The year Richard Nixon was elected by one of the thinnest margins in American history. And most importantly, 1968 was the year that brought an end to the much-needed leadership of Dr. King and Robert F. Kennedy.

Put simply, I told my students that 1968 was the most pivotal year in United States political history. It represented a fork in the line. The country could have gone in one direction but instead events on the ground forced it to choose another. I talked about what both men stood for. I talked about King’s Poor People’s Campaign and his discussion of issues, like Vietnam, that went beyond his advocacy for racial justice.  I talked about Kennedy’s platform for President.  How it sought, in its own way, to mediate the impending crises that were about to rock the nation.

I am today announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the United States. I do not run for the presidency merely to oppose any man, but to propose new policies. I run because I am convinced that this country is on a perilous course and because I have such strong feelings about what must be done, and I feel that I’m obliged to do all I can.” -Robert F. Kennedy

AR 7993-B (crop)I told my students that their deaths ensured that the nation would stay on the more perilous course.  A course we can all trace our current national upbringing back to. And while their martyrdom has inspired many to look beyond themselves and ask how they might be of service to the nation’s greater good, their deaths represent the fact that we have lost a portion of our moral center.

That moral center was firmly established in our addressing the nation’s ills head on. We combatted the Great Depression by striking at the heart economic injustice. We helped preserve democracy during World War II by leading the world against tyranny. This made our nation a beacon of light for the world to see and, in turn, emulate. We then expanded on that light when our nation took up the struggle against segregation and enshrined an individual’s civil and political rights into law. That light, however, became more fleeting with the deaths of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy. I told my students our country has searched for its moral center ever since. On occasion, we find it. We do the right thing. It seems, however, that center doesn’t quite hold any more.

Booby and Ethel Kennedy. MLK Funeral.At the tail-end of my diatribe, I caught myself. I paused. I had let myself do too much of the talking. I had let my opinions flow as freely as my Granddad does during our Sunday get-togethers. I must admit it felt good.

It was then that I decided to return the stage back to the history makers themselves. I asked my students, “Did you know Robert Kennedy delivered the eulogy at Martin Luther King’s funeral?” They responded that they had not.  I told them I was an admirer of the speech but that I preferred the unscripted words Kennedy spoke the night he found out about the assassination. It reveals him to be a remarkable and poetic man. I played them the YouTube clip (an amazing teacher tool) of that lonely night’s remarks. My students were captivated. They saw the fleeting light I spoke of Kennedy’s fatigued face, a man truly devastated by the news. They then heard the echoes of that light in his conciliatory and heart-felt words.

“What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black” – Robert F. Kennedy

MLK monumentOn this day of  Martin Luther King remembrance I choose to trace myself back to that moment in 1968. The moment encapsulated by those words. They serve as a challenge to us all to remember that we need not be divided. A reminder that we can rediscover our moral center by working together. By loving one another. It may seem fleeting at times, but we can still connect with others despite our perceived differences. It is the hallmark of union. Jefferson, Lincoln, King, Kennedy (and many others) improved this country by focusing on the promise of togetherness and equality. We can, too. All one has to do is trace the historical line backwards that connects them to the men and women that populate the past. We should all be inspired by the progress that they have made on our behalf. With inspiration as our guide, we should in turn add our own contribution to the national timeline, helping it move forward as we on occasion look back.