R. S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Fly, with Cat Tree and Painting


My sister’s huge orange cat is named Superfly. We call him Fly. Behind him stands part of Fire & Rain II, Val’s 2001 painting.

Denver, Colorado – 10 November 2015

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Wednesday Photo: 11/25/15


“Alamo Placida Oaks”
Denver, Colorado – 10 November 2015

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Hillside Monday: 11/23/15


“Through the Kitchen Window”
LaGrange, Georgia – 11 June 2012

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Cemetery Fence with Lichens


LaGrange, Georgia – 21 February 2015

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Song in the Key of Why


Fifteen years have passed since I jiggled open the always-half-sticky lock. Fifteen years since the old hatchback Mustang and I left clouds of black gravel dust behind us as we raced out around the driveway curve where the tulip poplars crowded together. Fifteen years since I gathered the last of my old furniture into a big boxy truck and, sobbing, walked that last Via Dolorosa out across the threshold.

Never again will I trudge up the twelve steep steps from the car to the front deck. Never again will I narrowly miss ramming the whiskey-barrel-bound banana tree that nobody could convince to bear fruit. Never again will I scuff the battleship-blank two-by-fours under my shoes. Never again will I notice how that expressionless gray is peeling off in long shoddy strips because of the late-December-freezing-rain-why-bother-with-primer paint job I gave it three Christmases before our lives broke forever into a thousand splintered shards.

Never again will I pray that nobody remembered to set the burglar alarm. Never again will I dread the questions on the other side of the door. Never again will I wonder why I bothered coming back at all.

I don’t know why I kept the key.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)



Wednesday Photo: 11/18/15


“The Country Store, Lone Oak”
Lone Oak, Georgia – 17 October 2015

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Hillside Monday: 11/16/15


“One Last Old Rose”
LaGrange, Georgia – 11 November 2015

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House of Johnson


Macon, Georgia – 6 November 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 11/11/15


“Leaf Ghost, 173d Airborne Memorial”
Fort Benning, Georgia – 9 October 2015

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Hillside Monday: 11/9/15


This purple glass lid, so dark it seems black at first glance, likely belonged to a candy dish or jewelry box. Someone was probably upset when it broke.

“Purple Glass with Moss, Leaves, Root, and Ant Hill”
LaGrange, Georgia – 5 October 2015

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Granite Slab Vault with Leaves


Old cemeteries in the rural South sometimes feature above-ground burial vaults made of roughly hewn granite slabs. This one, in southwestern Heard County, Georgia, dates from the early 1800s. On its upper surface, time, rain, and lichens have obscured the name and dates carved into the stone. Over the last 190 years, falling trees and shifting earth have caused the vault’s heavy slabs to slide apart.

Heard County, Georgia – 3 June 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 11/4/15


“Milky Quartz Offering”
Heard County, Georgia – 3 June 2014

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Hillside Monday: 11/2/15


“Beer Tree, Lincoln Street”
LaGrange, Georgia – 5 October 2015

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A Tail for a Halloween Caturday


My house was built in 1915 as one of many in the Hillside “mill village.” While I’ve called this house home since 1999, many other people have lived here over the last century. Some have never left.

In 2013, my family and I began remodeling what is now my den/home office. We removed the faux Queen Anne-style “wood beams” from the ceiling, gave the smoke-stained paneling half a dozen coats of fresh paint, and pulled up the mildewed 1970s carpet and the 1950s particleboard beneath it. We were sad to discover that, probably in the 1930s, the original red oak floor had been covered with 9” linoleum squares (a common size for that time). But at least we were making that room more pleasant to be in. I’d wanted to return the Happy Kitten Cottage to as close to its original layout and function as possible, and it was getting there a little at a time.

That’s when the smell showed up.

A week or so after we’d finished, I noticed the strong smell of butter in the den—and only in there. It smelled as if someone were melting three or four sticks of butter for a day of baking, or even for a huge batch of popcorn. A very comforting scent, for sure. It would linger for several hours, then go away, and then return a day or two later. The problem: I was not cooking anything.

It occurred to me that my neighbor makes her legendary cornbread with a whole stick of butter, rather than oil or shortening. But the delicious smell happened while Ernestine (not her real name) was at work, or at church, or out fishing on Saturday morning. Add to this the fact that her kitchen, on the north side of her house, is at least 80 feet from my den, which is on the south side of my house, and—well. That’s just creepy.

I mentioned the butter smell to Mom. She and my stepfather had spent several days tearing out the den floor while I was out of town. “Haven’t smelled any butter,” she said, “but the whole time we were working in the den, I felt like somebody was watching us. Someone was there with us. Not the cats—that’s different. A person.”

She added that the presence didn’t feel hostile. “It felt happy, like it was excited to see us taking out the nasty carpet and particleboard and cleaning up the linoleum floor.” Mom also reminded me that, in the house’s original four-room layout, the room next to the den was the kitchen. “Maybe it’s happy that the house is back like it remembers. Maybe it’s glad to see us—you know, welcoming us with something good to eat. Old-school Southern hospitality.”

Since then, I’ve smelled the strong butter smell every few months for a few days in a row. It doesn’t bother me. I look forward to it, and smile when I catch a whiff of it now and then. But there are other strange happenings. Tools too heavy and bulky for the cats to pick up somehow migrate from the toolbox in the old kitchen to other parts of the house. A box of drywall screws on an end table in the living room. A 22-ounce framing hammer set next to the bathroom sink. A 100-foot metal tape measure by the front door. A plastic case full of drill bits in the middle of the cooktop.

Last Friday, I had a doctor’s appointment and several errands to run. I left Hank, my sweet, sickly new kitten, out to roam the house while I was away. At that point, he had been here only three days. But the bigger cats already enjoyed playing with him, and were amazingly gentle with this little fellow who’s not even one-eighth their size.

When I left home, Hank was in the den, purring and snuggled in a sunbeam by the hearth. When I returned a couple hours later, he was sitting in almost the same place—but inside this wire basket. Funny, because when I departed, that wire basket sat eight feet away. On the other side of the room.

So the ghosts in my house are happy to see these familiar, sensible changes in my (our?) home. They encourage remodeling. And they love little Hank. You can’t get much more Halloween Caturday than that.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hole-y Mushroom


Heard County, Georgia – 10 October 2015

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Wednesday Photo: 10/28/15


“Water Glass and Black Napkin”
Columbus, Georgia – 9 October 2015

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Hillside Monday: 10/26/15


My walks around Hillside often reveal where people’s homes once stood. Sixty or seventy years ago, long before city-wide garbage service, this glass bottle neck wound up tossed under someone’s house, or in a trash heap out behind it. In this bed of fallen leaves and bright green moss, it reminds us of what was here a lifetime ago, under these oaks and hickories.

“Bottle Neck with Moss and Leaves”
LaGrange, Georgia – 5 October 2015

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Metal Chair in Turquoise and Red


Waverly Hall, Georgia – 11 October 2015

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A Vivid Memory, in Ruins

What does it feel like to drive past a place you knew for many years, only to discover it’s gone?

Wait, wait. Maybe place isn’t the right word. Perhaps building, or what used to stand at that place. The place—meaning the site, the GPS coordinates, the location on the face of the earth—is still there. It’s not going anywhere. But what used to be there, where the metaphorical X of the GPS ”marks the spot,” has gone, has disappeared, has completely vanished.

It’s an otherworldly feeling.
The older we get, the more we should probably expect it.

Years ago, my family’s Labor Day weekend tradition was to spend a day at the Powers’ Crossroads Festival. In the cool of the morning, I picked up Mom at her house. We’d then drive twenty-six miles on Georgia Highway 34 to the Festival grounds east of Franklin. This route intersects Bevis Road, which in turn winds past my old elementary school. Same route every year, nothing different—until September 2010.

The hand-lettered sign on the corner by the funeral home caught my eye. “Heard Elementary salvage sale this weekend?! What the—”

“Wonder what’s going on?” Mom said.

I whipped the truck onto Bevis Road. “Maybe they finally remodeled the old sixth grade wing. I’d love to get an old soapstone counter out of Mr. Smith’s lab and put it in my kitchen.”


Imagine my surprise, then, at the rubble strewn everywhere—and at the heap of orange fiberglass chairs in what was once the bus parking area. My sister and I probably sat in a few of them. They were nearly new when I began first grade in the fall of 1980.

Seeing them all piled up in front of the remnants of the school was surreal. Sure, the county had built a brand-new elementary school on Pea Ridge Road. Students hadn’t been here for several years. In my memory, though, the old Heard Elementary building stood as immovable as the Appalachians. It had always been there. It would always be there. It would never be reduced to a broken tangle of orange and chrome.

But as I learned in Mr. Smith’s fifth-grade science class, every physical object—even a mountain—will eventually disappear. Occasionally, mountains blow up all at once, like Krakatoa. Most of the time, though, they gradually erode and crumble, turning into boulders, then rocks, then pebbles, and then the finest sand.


My classmates and I loved the playground in front of the school. We loved the 1950s equipment, loved the rocks and trees that served as make-believe palaces, fortresses, and secret hideaways. Those granite chunks and red oaks and sweet gums endure; every trace of the swings and slides has vanished. Not even a concrete anchor remains. Despite seventy years of foot traffic, the hard-packed sand of the ball field now wears a glossy green fescue coat. With sun, water, and time, plants will return almost anywhere.

I thought about running down the steep bank beyond the dirt of the front drive, just to relive a memory. But I didn’t. It’s a lot more vivid, and bittersweet, where it is—in my mind.

This post originally appeared at Forgotten Plants & Places in March 2012, under the title “When a place is no more.” In June 2012, a revised version of that post appeared on this website.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 10/21/15


“Sycamore Layers”
Heard County, Georgia – 1 October 2015

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