Dr. Colden’s midnight dance

Published 9:02 pm Saturday, June 1, 2013

By Dennis Edwards
Guest columnist

Dr. Charles Colden was living proof that we are what we do for a living and a whole lot more.

During the day he was a dentist — diligently pulling, filling and fixing teeth in a little office attached to his Wellons Street home. But at night he went through a metamorphosis. Around midnight he transformed into an artist who shadow-danced while painting calligraphy on signs for events at First Baptist Church Mahan.

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This shadow dancer set up shop with an easel on the sidewalk in front of his office. You’d never know it except for the fact he used a big old floodlight to illuminate his subject. The light was so bright it all but lit up the neighborhood. Fortunately the brightness was angled toward the windowless side of Dr. Leon and Ida Sullivan’s house.

From my home across the street, I could peer through my picture window to see this Dr. Colden do his nighttime gig with a rhythm and joy reserved for dancers. I doubt he ever knew what his shadow looked like against the house next door or that anyone was watching.

The light and angles elongated his frame, exaggerated his movements. Like a Midnight Monet or a night-side Picasso he painted letters while in constant motion. It was a private dance, a celebration of the art of creating signs for the purpose of reminding members of First Baptist Church, Mahan, that Homecoming was on the horizon, along with benefits, revivals and other events.

Once unveiled in the church vestibule, the signs begged undivided attention. He stood next to them behind a neatly tied bow tie with a smile so broad I wasn’t sure it was he. There were times I wondered which was more important — the teeth or the painted text. My sense is one made the other possible or each was the other side of the same coin.

Somehow the answer wasn’t important. But the moonlight dances with paintbrush in hand were. They were the artistic expressions of a scientific soul, a man of thought and reason whose heart found refuge in the simple art of painting letters.

Years later, Dr. Colden would pay close attention to my early sermons. His observations were surgical at times. He expected theological and common sense. So late at night I picked up my fountain pen and paper minus the spotlight. I learned to dance with my thoughts, weaving and moving back and forth on the toes of the spirit while using broad, narrow and even angled strokes to describe The Lord of life and living.

At some point I’d have to paint the letters of my life, words shaped to the melody of an old, old story under floodlights of flaws and foul-ups. On those nights Dr. Colden’s midnight dances set an unforgettable example.

The dancing dentist, Midnight Monet that he was, used the night to perfectly form a message designed for daylight with the same attention to detail and perfection displayed in his office.

Maybe that’s what midnight dancers do. Maybe there’s one in all of us, the flip side of our personalities, where the pressure of life vents through an art form of our choosing.


Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at dedwards247@comcast.net.