R. S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Friday Photo: 3/24/17


“Morning Coffee, Morning Booze”
Denver, Colorado – 1 March 2017

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Reunion in Brass and Mother-of-Pearl

Twenty-four 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 73rd 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 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 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 why I still haven’t bought the Dukoff 10* metal mouthpiece that I wouldn’t shut up about all those years ago.

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)

NOTE: I first posted this piece on 16 March 2015. It appears here today with revisions.


Wednesday Photo: 3/22/17

“Waiting on a Train, Part 5”
Denver, Colorado – 1 March 2017

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Hillside Monday: 3/20/17

“Another Storm in Hillside”
LaGrange, Georgia – 10 April 2015

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Friday Photo: 3/17/17

“Autumn Leaves with Kiddie Pool”
Heard County, Georgia – 24 November 2016

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The Other Vine That Ate the South

In the Deep South, spring smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheapo-store-brands grape soda. Or perhaps it smells more like wonky year-old bubble gum, the kind that’s so powdery and bland nobody will even shoplift it off the dollar store clearance rack.

Whatever it smells like, that scent means wisteria, or, as I like to call it, the Other Vine That Ate the South. (The original Vine That Ate the South is kudzu, which blooms much later in the growing season, and is a topic for a different post or twelve.) In March and April, wisteria treats us to two or three weeks of glorious purple clouds in the trees. After that, it finishes leafing out to spend the rest of the season devouring everything in its path—fences, trees, houses, cars, pets.

It’s certainly breathtaking in the garden, but you have to tame it by pruning it hard every year.  Don’t slack off and skip a year. You will regret it. And don’t let its beauty fool you: wisteria sinensis is invasive. Unless someone keeps it in check, it takes over—a simple gardening fact.

But for whatever reason, the majority of people don’t control their wisteria. Or maybe it’s more like can’t control it. I’m not sure. When early spring passes, so do those amazing foot-long purple drupes. By the time summer gets here, its dark green leaves are so plentiful and thick that we can’t even see what it’s smothering 80 feet above the ground.

Other than adding stunning Pointillist color to the landscape and providing food for bees, wisteria doesn’t have much going for it. Oh, wait—it will also hide any place that you mean for people to forget. Don’t believe me? Just follow these two simple steps:

  1.   Plant wisteria.
  2.   Move.

Give it a few years, and voilà! Nobody will know the place ever existed.

People can say what they want about wisteria. I still look forward to its luxurious hues draped over roadside trees every spring. This is probably because I’m lucky enough not to have any on my property. As much as I love the Other Vine That Ate the South, it’s probably best that I leave it where I found it—far away from my own yard.

Photo: “Wisteria No. 471” (LaGrange, Georgia – 21 March 2012)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Originally published here on 8 October 2012, this post appears today with revisions. It was also one of my most popular posts in 2016.


Wednesday Photo: 3/15/17

“Waiting on a Train, Part 4”
Denver, Colorado – 1 March 2017

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Hillside Monday: 3/13/17

“Buffalo Rock Bottle Fragment”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 February 2016

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A Good Plan

Yesterday, I remembered a brilliant idea I had as I entered the sixth grade: “I’ll write a bunch of papers way ahead of time. That way, I’ll be prepared.”

I told my father my idea on a July afternoon at our little house in Randolph County, Alabama. I sat at one end of the dining room table. In front of me sat the massive electronic Sears typewriter Val and I had gotten for Christmas. Daddy sat at the other end of the table, sharpening his pocketknife.

The house smelled of whetstones and oil and ink-soaked rayon ribbon. The typewriter’s nervous hum filled the air between the shhhp-shhhp-shhhps of steel against stone. Daddy stopped, looked thoughtful, then nodded: “Sounds like a good plan.”

And it was—at least until school started. Alas, “Write a bunch of essays ahead of time” is not how sixth-grade language arts class works. Somehow, though, eleven-year-old me must’ve known that it’s a pretty good plan for freelance writers. I’m glad I managed to hold onto it.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Friday Photo: 3/10/17

“Mother Church Windows”
Ryman Auditorium
Nashville, Tennessee – 16 September 2015

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Wednesday Photo: 3/8/17

“One Glowing Maple Leaf”
Heard County, Georgia – 12 November 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


A Quick Update

Lately, my creative well has been completely dry. So I spent a week in Denver, Colorado, visiting my sister and letting my artistic eye/mind rest. It was wonderful. For the first time in months, I took some good photos. I even did some scholarly work for the John Prine talk I’ll be giving this June at the International Country Music Conference in Nashville. Prine is one of America’s greatest living songwriters. I love him so much.

I’m still working on my novel, Songs My Father Barely Knew. It’ll be done whenever it’s done. In the meantime, I’m revising a guest blog post, and working on music-related pieces for a business client. I’ve got a flash CNF (creative nonfiction) piece and a poem coming up in the same literary journal. And, though they’re a few months away, I’ve got two pieces appearing in Columbus and the Valley Magazine. More details when these go to press.

I’m waiting to get word on a metric shit-ton of other submissions I’ve flung out into the Void over the last few months. Kim Liao prompted me to aim for 100 rejections this year. “That’s a worthy goal,” I thought, “an average of 8.33 rejections per month.” Every No brings us one step closer to Yes. Such is the writer’s life.

So that’s what’s been going on. Meanwhile, here’s a photo of me in the ladies’ room mirror at a regional-circuit pro wrestling match last summer (purse and phone in hand). Don’t say I never gave you anything.

Photo: “Self-Portrait, Middle School Girls’ Restroom” (Carrollton, Georgia – 16 July 2016)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hillside Monday: 3/6/17

“Saucer Magnolias after the Storm”
LaGrange, Georgia – 16 March 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Friday Photo: 3/3/17

“ARUX Danger”
LaGrange, Georgia – 20 November 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Wednesday Photo: 3/1/17

“Boots and Autumn Leaves”
Heard County, Georgia – 12 November 2016

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Hillside Monday: 2/27/17

“Saint Francis Goes to Mardi Gras”
LaGrange, Georgia – 28 April 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hazel-rah and the Well

One warm Saturday afternoon in the spring of 1998, my mother heard desperate, raspy kitten meows from 40 feet down in the old hand-dug well behind her house. Poor kitty was likely chasing a mouse when she fell in. Somehow, she landed between the red clay wall and the cistern, and not in the murky, stagnant water. The mouse was not so lucky.

Mom, Steve, Val, and I were all too large to fit into the well. Plus we didn’t have the equipment to safely get us down there and back with kitten in hand. So Mom came up with a solution: She opened a can of tuna, dumped it into a two-gallon bucket, and tied a long rope to the handle. Then, with Steve holding a high-powered flashlight, she carefully lowered the bucket into the well, as close to the kitten as she could. “I’ll check in the morning,” Mom said. “Maybe she’ll figure it out.”

Morning came, and Mom hauled up the bucket. In it was the bony brown-tabby-and-white female kitten—barely eight weeks old, and, predictably, covered in tuna juice. “Eeeeert. Eeeeeert.” She had been crying for help so loudly, and for so long, that her meow was broken. Worse, blow flies had found her in the days before we did: a live “wolf” larva writhed and turned in the pencil-sized hole in her neck.

We took her to the vet, where she stayed for several days after surgery. When Val departed a few months later for graduate school in Gainesville, Florida, she took the kitten with her. She named her Hazel, after a favorite character in the novel Watership Down. When Val moved to Denver in 2000, Hazel and sister Madeleine (RIP) went along, too.

For most of her life, Hazel has been semi-feral. Only in her old age has she finally mellowed and “learned how to cat.” She’s 19 now; if she were a person, she’d be 92. She needs medication every day, and has reconciled herself to needing, and accepting, help from her people. We don’t know how much longer Hazel will be with us. But we’re thankful for every moment she’s still here, meowing her cranky meow when it’s time to eat. She’s one of our all-time favorite cats—the best Caturday companion ever.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Friday Photo: 2/24/17

“Winter Sky and Fence”
University of West Georgia
Carrollton, Georgia – 26 January 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 2/22/17

“Table Corner, Sunday Morning”
Waffle House #646
LaGrange, Georgia – 12 February 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)


Hillside Monday: 2/20/17

“It’s Always Mardi Gras Somewhere”
LaGrange, Georgia – 3 January 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)


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