R. S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Sky, Water, Cracked Pavement

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Oxford, Alabama – 14 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 3/25/15

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“Concrete Abstract”
Oxford, Alabama – 14 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 3/23/15

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This cast-iron fireplace front probably dates from the early 20th century (as does the lead-based paint still clinging to it). It’s from one of two original chimneys in my circa-1915 mill house. When we freed this beauty from the wall where it had been closed up for over 60 years, it bore a thick layer of coal dust. As we tore out the bricks from the chimney and hearth, our faces did, too.

Coal, though sooty and potentially dangerous, was also cheap in the early 1900s. It was how poor textile mill families heated their homes. Its dust sticks around for what seems like forever, too. More than six decades after this house stopped using coal heat, I still find the silvery-gray dust in the old walls, or in the cats’ fur when they sneak into the chimney space (soon to be a walk-in closet).

“Cast Iron Fireplace Front with Paint”
LaGrange, Georgia – 15 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Quick! Before It’s Gone!

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LaGrange, Georgia – 15 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Advice from Raptors

As I washed this evening’s dishes, I heard them call from the water oaks behind the house: Who-who? Who-who? Who-cooks-for-YOU? Barred owls—the first time this season.

Some folklore traditions regard owls as harbingers of doom. Others maintain that they signal change of many kinds, not necessarily bad news. Still others hold that owls mean your house and property will soon become rodent-free. For a long time, I discounted the first two. But that was before the hard-partying bunch of barred owls moved into the trees around my house two years ago.

Since then, every new phase of my life—whether painful or pleasant—has arrived in the company of owls. They go quiet for days or weeks, then return, and HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT?!? something new and previously unimaginable shows up along with them. Tonight, when the first hoots reached my ears, I almost dropped a soapy dinner plate into the floor: “Please, universe. I can’t handle any more. Please, please—have mercy on me.”

Fortunately, neither the owls nor the universe heard my plea.

When I stop and listen to the stillness of my soul, I’m sure of several changes heading my way. While I don’t yet know what they’ll look like, what form they’ll take, I know to expect them, to get ready and do what they need for me to do when they finally get here. Others, though, I cannot and will not know until they are upon me. The owls are just the early warning system.

Good or bad, sweetness or sorrow, I’m grateful and humbled to hear those feathered harbingers call once again from the walnut tree. Whatever they bring, I brace myself and welcome it with open arms. Which, honestly, is about all any of us can do.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sit in the cool of the back yard for a while. I’m gonna soak up the dark and the quiet and the peace. I’m gonna listen for advice from raptors, whatever they may decide to pass along.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 3/18/15

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“Handed Down in Stone”
Heard County, Georgia – 7 February 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Spring Breakthrough

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LaGrange, Georgia – 11 March 2015

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Reunion in Brass and Mother-of-Pearl

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Twenty-two years have passed since we last met. Strange, because it seems like just yesterday when we waved goodbye. She looked a little sad, but assured me that she’d be around whenever I needed her. No worries. She’d be right where I left her. And she meant it.

Even as she approaches her 70th birthday, she’s still radiant. Her voice remains strong and smoky. She hasn’t grown gaunt with age, as some of us do, but still weighs in at a hefty, healthy 20 pounds. She’s never been ashamed of her worn lacquer, her scratches,  her oft-repaired and dangerously thin brass. Don’t make the mistake of suggesting to her that those are flaws to be camouflaged and hidden away. Oh, no. She won’t hear of it. Those “wrinkles” mean she’s been places. She’s seen things. She has loved and been loved—and, what’s more, she will continue to love. She has lived fully and deeply, as most of us never will.

Does she ever think of France? Does she ever long for that little factory south of Paris where she came into the world, where one of Monsieur Noblet’s craftsmen  stamped “9346” in the small of her bell seam? Whenever I ask, she changes the subject. She’d rather talk about the Rubank exercises that we both hated at first but quickly grew to love, or that grueling Dvoràk piece we aced in the winter of 1993. She gets excited when I suggest we try “Night Train” again, and pushes for a dirty, raunchy, uptempo “gut-bucket” version. She wonders aloud why I still haven’t bought the Dukoff 10* metal mouthpiece that I wouldn’t shut up about all those years ago.

When she subtly refuses to answer my questions, is she protecting me? Or herself?

It doesn’t matter. She kept her two-decades-old promise: I needed her, and there she was. Or, rather, here she is, as patient and solid and accepting as ever. As I slowly rebuild my wind and dexterity,  she stays with me. She picks up where we left off, telling her story and mine in that steady, husky tenor—singing every note with longing, and with love.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 3/16/15

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“Helpless Valentines”
LaGrange, Georgia – 15 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Cherry Blossom Glory

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University of West Georgia
Carrollton, Georgia – 9 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 3/11/15

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“Friday Morning in the Drawing Studio”
LaGrange, Georgia – 20 February 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 3/9/2015

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Last weekend, I discovered this handwritten recipe in the depths of a kitchen cabinet, misspellings and all, where it had fallen out of the back of a drawer at least 25 years ago. (I bought the house in June 1999, nearly 16 years ago.) Crumpled and stained beside it lay a mail-in offer for an Angela Lansbury fitness video. I would have sent it in with my $14.95 plus shipping and handling—but it expired on 31 July 1990. Ah, the things you find in a 100-year-old house.

I posted this photo to Instagram on 1 March 2015. Several days later, @dirtypages (“An exhibit at the Nashville Farmers’ Market about women and the recipes that tell their stories”) was kind enough to feature it in their Instagram feed.

“Miss Patty’s Peanut Brittle Recipe”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Guess What?

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Elkton, Tennessee – 19 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 3/4/15

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“Lace Skirt and Wall”
LaGrange, Georgia – 17 December 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

The Daffodils That Always Mean “Home”

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Living in a small town often means commuting a long distance to work somewhere else. In my case, I commute 45 miles one way. It’s the price I pay for the relatively slow pace of life in west central Georgia. While the drive sometimes gets old, the scenery does not.

I take U.S. Highway 27 from LaGrange, driving through rural Heard County, to get to Carrollton. Despite the fact that the U.S. 27 I knew growing up is no more—the new, four-lane highway took its place some years ago—the new road still traverses some beautiful countryside.

So it’s March now—the in-between time of year when the weather can’t decide between ice storms and tornadoes. This year has brought out the daffodils a little early. I delight in watching them pop up along U.S. 27’s shoulders.

When you see daffodils, you can safely assume that someone put them there. Unlike seed plants, daffodils and other bulbs have to be dug up and planted. In order to get them from where they are to where they’re going to be, someone has to carefully dig them up at the right time of year (late spring, after blooms and foliage have died back), transport them to a suitable location, and plant them.

Most daffodils we see along the roadside make their homes in someone’s yard. Sometimes they’re in neat flower beds. Sometimes, as is the case with my own yard, they’re randomly planted in a sunny patch of lawn to surprise everyone year after year with their unexpected yellows and creams in a sea of brittle brown grass.

But what about those planted in or near a roadside ditch, without a house nearby?

Just because you don’t see a house doesn’t mean one hasn’t ever been there. Daffodils stay underground most of the year. Once they’ve finished blooming, their leaves die back and don’t reappear for another year. So old houses get demolished, their sites fading into and gradually out of memory—yet the bulbs embedded around them come back. They come back every spring thereafter, house or no house.

Plant ghosts, I call them. They don’t know the house and the people are gone. They come back because this is their home. In every sense of the word, they are rooted here.

These are very simple, single-cup daffodils, a very old-fashioned variety found in the yards of very old houses. They’re about 12” tall at most, and amazingly hardy. Judging from what’s left of the house, and from the size of the flower clumps, these daffs have been here for about 50 years.

Behind the thick, overgrown privet hedge, nearly 20 feet down the bank from the southbound lanes of U.S. 27 in Carroll County, appears the faint outline of a house. Or, rather, what used to be a house. Out in front: these happy yellow bells.

I wonder why the last residents left. I wonder if they left in a hurry. I wonder who decided to let a once-sturdy farmhouse simply fold itself back into the earth.

I wonder if, on leaving for the last time, they took a long, final look toward the flower bed. I wonder if they wept for the flowers waiting beneath its surface, for the daffodils that always mean “home.”

NOTE: An earlier version of this post appeared at Forgotten Plants & Places on 25 February 2012.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Hillside Monday: 3/2/15

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“I Don’t Know What Happened Here, but I Kinda Like It”
LaGrange, Georgia – 28 February 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Sunset, Ringer’s Old Store

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Carroll County, Georgia – 16 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 2/25/15

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“The Bench of Sorrow”
University of West Georgia
Carrollton, Georgia – 14 October 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 2/23/15

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“In Memory of a Friend”
LaGrange, Georgia – 19 January 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Soybean Field, Autumn

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Heard County, Georgia – 25 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

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