R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Category: Forgotten Plants & Places (page 1 of 3)

Friday Photo: 3/16/18

“Daffodil Ghost No. 1”
Heard County, Georgia – 4 March 2016

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 3/2/18

“Hope and Rehope”
Chambers County, Alabama – 20 February 2018

© R.S. Williams (all right reserved)

The Little Peach Tree That Could

In the mid-1930s, my great-grandfather planted this dwarf peach tree in the side yard of his house in southwestern Heard County, Georgia. By the mid-1950s, when my mother was old enough to remember the family’s yearly trips down from Michigan, the tree bore heavy yields every summer.

Pap would slice up quart after quart of fresh peaches, from which he and Grandma Edith would make ice cream in an old crank-handle freezer. It was the finest she had ever tasted, Mom would say years later. When she first moved south in 1968, Mom lived with Pap and Grandma while she saved up for her own apartment in LaGrange. Entering its fourth decade, the little peach tree was still producing as many peaches as the three of them could eat (read: a lot).

In 1988, Mom moved back to Heard County and began fixing up the old home place. By that time, the tree was just about dead. Sap ran sticky amber-brown from the peach borer holes along its trunk. Ice storms had broken off about half its branches. The other half, fiercely proud and unwilling to admit defeat, struggled to stay even halfway upright.

The kind thing to do, Mom supposed, would be to cut it down. No sense in letting it suffer. It had served its purpose for many years. Now it was time to plant something new.

But the saw stayed in the shed.  Mom couldn’t stand to cut down the beleaguered little peach tree while it was still half-alive, or even a quarter alive. “When it’s finally dead, I’ll cut it,” she kept saying. “In the meantime, we’ll just mow around it.”

Which she did—very carefully, with a rickety push-mower and a pair of yard shears. Mom mulched it. She sprayed it for insects and fungus. She watered it during droughts, and pruned away the branches split by the weight of snow and ice. For a dying tree, this one sure was getting a lot of care.

Year after year, the little tree hung on. Every spring, the familiar pink blossoms appeared. By early summer, fuzzy green baby peaches the size of jelly beans dotted the branches. By July 4th, the baby peaches would lie rotting on the ground, felled by some fungus or insect predator. At least the fire ants and yellow jackets were eating well.

For almost 20 years, we had hoped for peaches. For almost 20 years, we had none. I began to accept that peaches, as much as I wanted them, were just not going to happen.

Fast forward to 2003: a warm spring day at the old home place. My mother and stepfather had almost finished rebuilding the long-collapsed front porch. Useless with a hammer but still wanting to be part of the action, I stood nearby.

“Uh, Mom?” I said. “It’s about your little tree.”

“I know, I know.” She mopped the sweat from her brow and grabbed another fistful of 16-penny nails. “I’m giving it one more chance. If it doesn’t make fruit this year, it’s coming down.”

So the spring turned into summer, and the blossoms turned into fuzzy green baby peaches. But this time, the baby peaches stayed on the tree. And grew. And grew. And ripened.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, we had peaches.

I felt awful for having hoped we could cut down the elderly peach tree. I had doubted it, and it had come back—perhaps to prove us wrong, but more likely because that’s just what trees do. This lonely, gnarled little tree suddenly bore two bushels of peaches just because it could.

That summer, we had the best homemade peach ice cream and the best homemade peach cobbler I have ever tasted. Since then, the tree has managed to produce at least a few desserts’ worth of fruit every season. It has survived nearly a century of drought, disease, ice storms, and straight-line winds—and, one time, a sweet, hungry, clumsy 2,800-pound Black Angus bull. This beloved little tree refuses to quit.

What will this year bring? We don’t yet know. The peach tree probably doesn’t yet know, either. No matter what happens, though, I will always be grateful to it for showing me what endurance really means.

Photo: “Green Peach, Black Cat” (Heard County, Georgia – 27 May 2014)

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 11/22/17

“Bank Building Façade #1”
Meansville, Georgia – 6 November 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 10/27/17

“Waiting, No. 1”
Wedowee, Alabama – 19 September 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 10/20/17

“Factory Windows No. 1”
Newnan, Georgia – 3 August 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 9/22/17

The past is never where you think you left it.
— Katherine Anne Porter

“For Wes, Part 9”
Glenn, Georgia – 17 July 2017
© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 9/6/17

“Track and Sky”
Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 5/24/17

“Old Rose in Bloom”
Heard County, Georgia – 13 May 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 5/22/17

“Peony Globe”
LaGrange, Georgia – 10 May 2013

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 5/15/17

“Silhouette with Turquoise and Brick”
LaGrange, Georgia – 29 April 2017

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

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.

 

Hillside Monday: 3/13/17

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

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

The Little Peach Tree That Could

In the mid-1930s, my great-grandfather planted this dwarf peach tree in the side yard of his house in southwestern Heard County, Georgia. By the mid-1950s, when my mother was old enough to remember the family’s yearly trips down from Michigan, the tree bore heavy yields every summer.

Pap would slice up quart after quart of fresh peaches, from which he and Grandma Edith would make ice cream in an old crank-handle freezer. It was the finest she had ever tasted, Mom would say years later. When she first moved south in 1968, Mom lived with Pap and Grandma while she saved up for her own apartment in LaGrange. Entering its fourth decade, the little peach tree was still producing as many peaches as the three of them could eat (read: a lot).

In 1988, Mom moved back to Heard County and began fixing up the old home place. By that time, the tree was just about dead. Sap ran sticky amber-brown from the peach borer holes along its trunk. Ice storms had broken off about half its branches. The other half, fiercely proud and unwilling to admit defeat, struggled to stay even halfway upright.

The kind thing to do, Mom supposed, would be to cut it down. No sense in letting it suffer. It had served its purpose for many years. Now it was time to plant something new.

But the saw stayed in the shed.  Mom couldn’t stand to cut down the beleaguered little peach tree while it was still half-alive, or even a quarter alive. “When it’s finally dead, I’ll cut it,” she kept saying. “In the meantime, we’ll just mow around it.”

Which she did—very carefully, with a rickety push-mower and a pair of yard shears. Mom mulched it. She sprayed it for insects and fungus. She watered it during droughts, and pruned away the branches split by the weight of snow and ice. For a dying tree, this one sure was getting a lot of care.

Year after year, the little tree hung on. Every spring, the familiar pink blossoms appeared. By early summer, fuzzy green baby peaches the size of jelly beans dotted the branches. By July 4th, the baby peaches would lie rotting on the ground, felled by some fungus or insect predator. At least the fire ants and yellow jackets were eating well.

For almost 20 years, we had hoped for peaches. For almost 20 years, we had none. I began to accept that peaches, as much as I wanted them, were just not going to happen.

Fast forward to 2003: a warm spring day at the old home place. My mother and stepfather had almost finished rebuilding the long-collapsed front porch. Useless with a hammer but still wanting to be part of the action, I stood nearby.

“Uh, Mom?” I said. “It’s about your little tree.”

“I know, I know.” She mopped the sweat from her brow and grabbed another fistful of 16-penny nails. “I’m giving it one more chance. If it doesn’t make fruit this year, it’s coming down.”

So the spring turned into summer, and the blossoms turned into fuzzy green baby peaches. But this time, the baby peaches stayed on the tree. And grew. And grew. And ripened.

For the first time in nearly 40 years, we had peaches.

I felt badly for having hoped we could cut down the elderly peach tree. I had doubted it, yet it had come back—perhaps to prove us wrong, but more likely because that’s just what trees do. This lonely, gnarled little tree suddenly bore two bushels of peaches just because.

That summer, we had the best homemade peach ice cream and the best homemade peach cobbler I have ever tasted. Since then, the tree has managed to produce at least a few desserts’ worth of fruit every season. It has survived nearly a century of drought, disease, ice storms, and straight-line winds—and, one time, a sweet, hungry, clumsy 2,800-pound Black Angus bull. This beloved little tree refuses to quit.

What will this year bring? We don’t yet know. The peach tree probably doesn’t yet know, either. No matter what happens, though, I will always be grateful to it for showing me what endurance really means.

Photo: “Green Peach, Black Cat” (Heard County, Georgia – 27 May 2014)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Note: An earlier version of this piece appeared at my former blog, Forgotten Plants & Places, on 12 April 2012.

 

Ray & Dot, February 1970

RayAndDotFeb1970_COPY_2015-09-09_19.18.17-1

When I browse old family photos, sometimes I see faces I don’t recognize. On occasion, the context reveals who they are: Oh yeah, that’s So-and-So’s friend from Scouts. See the t-shirt? 

Mostly, though, I cannot identify these people from the clues in the image. Their pictures often include no descriptive caption on the back, or perhaps a brief, unhelpful scrawl. In the washboard-rough dirt road of images in this forty-five-year-old photo album, these photos are mud holes. They are in here for some reason that I cannot figure out. I cannot help splashing through them again and again.

On the back of this picture, in Palmer-Method-plus-a-lifetime cursive, someone wrote “Ray & Dot.” And that’s all. I do not recognize their faces. In all my years of eavesdropping on grown-up conversations, I do not recall my grandparents, or their many friends, ever mentioning anybody named Ray or Dot.

As was the Kodak 110 photo lab custom of the time, the white border is stamped “FEB 70,” to denote the image was processed and printed in February 1970. No telling whether the photo was taken in February 1970. If the photographer was like many amateur family snapshotters back then, the film could’ve been exposed for months or even years before she or he finally thought to get it developed. The right edge has been cut away at a scissors-in-the-right-hand angle.

I showed the photo to my mother and my sister. Neither recognized the faces or names. The setting, though, looked familiar to Mom. “They might be at the old Rock Mills Cemetery, where Mildred’s folks are buried. Who in the family died in February 1970?” Nobody that I could think of, right off. I suggested to Mom that the background could also be the cemetery behind Paran Baptist Church, an eighth of a mile from the Georgia line on Alabama Highway 22. “Yep. Could be Paran. And it could be the big cemetery in Roanoke, too.” She sipped her coffee.  “But I still have no idea who these people are.”

Ray and Dot are dressed in fashionable clothing for the late 1960s and early 1970s, and are pretty stylish for people who look to have been about twenty years older than my grandparents. Dot’s long-sleeved, high-necked green dress and brown purse suggest fall: cooler weather, but not quite coat season. The green dress also tells me this occasion was not a funeral, as does Ray’s rumpled light tan suit. A church homecoming, perhaps? Dot’s corsage indicates she was someone special at this gathering.

While Ray squints into the sun at the camera, Dot turns toward him and smiles broadly, as if anticipating the funny remark he’s on the edge of making now that somebody’s taking his picture for the hundredth time today. Do they know the dark-suited fellow in the background who’s strolling off into the cemetery? Are they about to hop into that big brown Chevy and rumble down narrow two-lane roads to their house? Are they married? To one another?

I cannot answer any of these questions. Chances are that I never will. Just the same, forty-five years after someone froze this moment onto light-sensitive paper, I keep Ray and Dot in my photo album—and in my heart.

“Ray & Dot, February 1970” – original photographer unknown
© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

A Story for All Hallows’ Eve

gravestoneunknownunionsoldier001_10-30-2016

Most Halloweens I spend at my mother’s house. It’s the same house where her father was born in 1922. Like many old houses, it has plenty of stories to tell. And it won’t tell them to just anyone. Oh, no. The house plays favorites when it has something to say.

In non-drought years, Halloween means we build a bonfire in Mom’s yard, then make s’mores and tell family ghost stories. We listen to the deep, hollow hoo-hoo-hoooooot of the great horned owls in the pasture next door. Sometimes, well after dark, the local coyotes begin choir practice. Their not-quite-dog-like barking, their yip-yip-yip-yip-ooooooOOOOOO! far off in the woods, stirs up in the human heart something ancient and primal. That’s when Mom and I feel the hair stand up on the backs of our necks. It’s our All Hallows’ signal to grab the dogs and scurry back indoors.

Since 1834, there has been a house on this spot in Heard County, Georgia. The original cabin burned in the 1880s; people built another using the foundation and field-stone pillars from the first house. When that one burned 30 years later, they built yet another house. That’s the one my mother and stepfather live in today.

Mom and Steve have spent the last couple decades renovating the house, taking what was essentially a falling-down sharecropper’s shack and turning it into a cozy home in the woods. It now has insulation, gas heaters, a full kitchen, and two bathrooms with hot running water. They refinished the 14-inch-wide heart pine floors, original to the early 1900s version of the house and likely similar to the floors in the first two houses on this site.

The ghost story that I always heard about the house goes something like this:

Late July 1864 saw one of west central Georgia’s few Civil War battles: McCook’s Raid, in what is now Coweta County (about 45 miles east of Mom’s house). In the days after the battle, one Union soldier appeared, on horseback, on the dirt road that once passed in front of the house. The soldier, who didn’t look much older than a teenager, was all by himself.

He wasn’t in good shape, either. He was slumped over onto the horse’s neck, over the horn of his saddle, unconscious. The skin-and-bones horse seemed to follow the road of its own accord, carrying its rider per its beastly duty. The people inside the house no doubt heard the hooves clop-clop-clop on packed dirt, and walked onto the porch to stare.

Just then, the Union soldier fell off his horse into the middle of the road, a dead-weight heap in blue homespun. His eyelids did not even flutter as the people ran out into the road, hoisted him by his armpits and ankles, and brought him inside.

They lay the soldier on a straw mattress, and fetched fresh water from the well out back for some cold compresses. The Union soldier was still knocked out, and now sweating profusely.  He was very badly cut and bruised. Other than his ragged dark blue uniform, the young man offered no other clues as to his identity. The people wondered if he had been wounded in a nearby battle. Or perhaps he had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead by unknown assailants, many miles from where he was now.

There were no letters from home stashed inside the young man’s coat—no mementos, no lock of hair, no faded daguerreotypes of loved ones waiting for his return. He simply lay there in the bed, barely breathing, just a kid sent far from home by a country who probably didn’t even know where he was.

He never woke up, and died the next morning.

They buried him in the cemetery 300 feet down the road. His coffin was made from weathered old boards pried off of the barn. They marked his grave with a large rock. It was all they had.

In the spring of 1928, C.B. Adamson decided it was time that the unknown Union soldier had a fitting tribute. C.B. was a child when the solider died at the house on the ridge. So he composed a long poem for the soldier, and went down to the graveyard, where he mixed up some homemade concrete, poured the fellow a gravestone, and stamped the poem in the wet concrete. Community historians sent a request to Washington, DC for an official Union Army headstone. When it arrived, they placed it next to the concrete slabs. Despite nearly 100 years of harsh weather and occasional neglect, the unknown soldier’s grave is still intact. Caretakers patched the slabs back together a few years ago after an ice storm sent a four-foot-thick white oak crashing into their center.

When Mom moved down here from Michigan in 1969, her grandparents were still living in the old house where she lives today. She moved in with them until she could find a job and apartment. In 1989, she returned to Heard County, and has lived in the family home ever since. Of course, Mom grew up hearing stories of the Union soldier’s ghost. While she’s never seen him, she’s heard him walking around and felt his presence in the house.

“When I hear him,” she says, “it’s usually the sound of heavy boots along the floor—like the boots don’t fit very well, or maybe the person’s feet really hurt. It happens when I’m the only one at home. Other times, it’s just a funny feeling I get, like someone’s in the room with me or is watching me. But when I look up, nobody’s there.”

On Halloween 2006, Mom and I made our usual bonfire a good, safe 50 feet from the house. About 9:30 that night, I turned my back to the fire and was finishing the last of the s’mores as I watched how the blaze illuminated much of the yard. For safety’s sake, we’d left the lights on in the kitchen, dining room, and living room—the rooms on the west side of the house, and the ones I into which I could see from where I stood in the yard.

That’s when I saw him in the house.
A man.
Dressed in dark blue.

He walked from left to right: starting in the kitchen, he made his way slowly through the dining room, and into the living room. I watched the man, of average height and build, walk along and reach with his right hand as if to open a door. His dark blue sleeve reached to his knuckles, as if his shirt or coat were several sizes too large. He walked steadily through the house, opening one door and the next, passing by all the windows. When he reached the living room’s old chimney. . .he vanished.

“Mom, is someone in the house?”

“Nobody but the cats. Why?”

I blinked hard, and began shaking. “I just saw someone walk through the house. From the kitchen, to the dining room, on through to the living room.”

Mom sat straight up in her lawn chair by the fire. “What?”

“I swear to God, Mom. I just saw somebody walk through the house. A man, wearing a long-sleeved blue coat or shirt.”

Mom was quiet for a long moment, then turned to me. “You know what this means, right?”

“No. . .”

“It means you’re the first person I know who’s actually seen the unknown Union soldier.”

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 8/15/16

BlueTilesColemanLibrary_COPY_April2014

These are likely bathroom tiles, judging by their shapes and color. This shade of greenish-blue was popular in working people’s homes around here from the 1920s through the 1960s. I found them lying on the ground after a heavy rain. They were probably buried decades ago, after the house came down to make way for a public library.

Photo: “Blue Tiles, Coleman Library”
LaGrange, Georgia – April 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 6/8/16

OldNailsWithPaintAndBarnFloor_COPY_2016-04-24

“Old Nails with Paint and Barn Floor”
Troup County, Georgia – 24 April 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Old Rose in Bloom

OldRoseInBloom_COPY_2016-05-13

Heard County, Georgia – 13 May 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 5/25/16

QuietCountryBarnDemolition_COPY_2016-04-24_

“Quiet Country Barn Demolition”
Troup County, Georgia – 24 April 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Trumpet Vine with Mural

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LaGrange, Georgia – 19 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 5/11/16

BankBuildingMuralLateAfternoon_COPY_2014-11-06

“Bank Building Mural, Late Afternoon”
Meansville, Georgia – 6 November 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Track and Sky

TrackAndSky_COPY_2014-08-09

Abandoned mining camp, Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 4/27/16

YellowAndGrayWithWindow_COPY02_2014-09-19-17

“Yellow and Gray with Window”
Wedowee, Alabama – 19 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 4/25/16

100YearsOfNails_COPY_2016-03-23_10

During their epic March 2016 tear-off party, the roofing crew discovered four layers of shingles—including the original!—on my century-old Hillside mill house. Most houses can bear the weight of (at most) just two layers. No wonder the rafters and deck on my home were in such terrible condition.

In my hand sits one hundred years of nail history. With each new layer of shingles, the nails had to be longer and longer. Their shapes and relative condition speak to how nail manufacturing evolved from the first roof (circa 1915) to the fourth one (circa 1975).

“100 Years of Nails”
LaGrange, Georgia – 23 March 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 4/18/16

HillsideMysteryStones_COPY_2014-07-29

In past Hillside Monday posts, I’ve shared with you a few items I’ve found where mill houses once stood: coins, marbles, bits of broken dishware. Even when a small artifact is coated in sixty-plus years of dirt, I can identify it before long. Now and again, though, a discovery stumps me.

A few years ago, on a walk after a week of heavy rain, I spied the mottled green ball you see above. It practically waved at me, half-sticking out of red clay. Three broken fingernails and a muddy shoe later, it was in my palm.

It was heavy enough and hard enough to be one of those coveted “monster” marbles I’d heard about. But at about 1.25″ in diameter, shooting it just once would probably cause an epic nail bruise, if not a broken finger. Ouch.

When I got it home and cleaned it off, I saw the ball had been machined from stone. It couldn’t have been natural; it was perfectly round. A small divot, maybe a millimeter deep, revealed the off-white of the stone’s interior. I asked around, but nobody could tell me more about the mysterious little sphere. So I put it in my marble container and forgot about it.

A couple weeks later, I showed a friend some of the cool old Hillside marbles I’ve found over the years. The little greenish ball was in the box with them. It stuck out, self-conscious and forlorn—like the kid who’s been held back a grade or three, the big, slow, clumsy one who catches hell every recess. “I don’t know what this is,” I said, “but I found it at an old home site, like the rest. It’s pretty, even if I can’t tell you what it’s for.”

My friend smiled, then excused himself to walk out to his truck. He returned holding the blotchy little brownish-tan ball above.

“This is the sixteenth one I’ve found in three months,” he said. “They showed up in a load of milled asphalt I bought for my driveway: recycled old paving, smooth little river rocks, crush-n-run gravel…and these things. A few have asphalt stuck to them, but otherwise they all look like this.” He handed it to me. It was the same size, weight, texture, and shape of my lonely green orb. “Never seen anything like it. No idea what it is.”

Well.
That makes two of us.

Photo: “Hillside Mystery Stones” (LaGrange, Georgia – 29 July 2014)

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

The Other Vine That Ate the South

Wisteria #471, LaGrange, Georgia (21 March 2012)

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, of course, which 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, because you’ll 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.

 

Wednesday Photo: 3/30/16

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“Life in the Ruins”
Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 3/28/16

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“Diet Rite Cola Bottle Fragment”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 March 2016

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 3/16/16

Daffodil Knocked over by Storm #1, LaGrange, Georgia (8 March 2012)

“Daffodil Knocked Over by Storm, No. 1”
LaGrange, Georgia – 8 March 2012

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Fragment of an Ordinary Day Long Gone

When I taught at the University of West Georgia, my campus office was about 200 feet from the building where many of my classes met. My walks to class were never long, but they were beautiful. The thoughtfully landscaped campus always gave me something to look at, even in winter. Bare cherry and maple branches silhouetted against the sky, glossy holly and magnolia leaves defiantly green in the cold, silvery bark shimmering in the morning light, sweetgum leaves and seedpods clustered like so many haiku next to the sidewalk—I loved them all.

One cold February morning, I was on my way to class when I saw a spot of light jade-green in the brown bark mulch along the sidewalk.

Green Dish Fragment Found at UWG in Feb 2012 (21 June 2012)

Barely an inch long, the dish fragment bore the crackles of age and the freeze-thaw cycle. This wasn’t anything recently produced (or recently broken). The color was popular for dishes and kitchen accessories in the 1930s and 1940s. The subtle flutes along the bottom reminded me of Fiesta dishware.

I’m always finding interesting dish fragments on walks around my beloved Hillside neighborhood. But in all my years of university teaching, I’d never found anything like this on a college campus.

So I e-mailed Suzanne Durham, UWG’s campus historian. “What used to be where the TLC building is today?” I asked. “I found a small piece of an old dish behind the building, and thought it was out of place.”

Before it was a college, Ms. Durham told me, the campus was a 275-acre cotton farm owned by Bluford A. Sharp. College trustees purchased the property from him in 1907. That July, 12,000 people witnessed the cornerstone ceremony for what’s now the Academic Building.

Sadly, Special Collections didn’t have any pre-UWG photos of the north-central part of campus from back then. However, the farm did feature many sharecropper families. Their small, plain houses were likely on the edges of the farm, along dirt roads and the edges of pastures, far away from the main house. The main house still stands—except it’s now called Honors House. The sharecroppers’ shacks, demolished over a century ago, weren’t so lucky.

Almost nobody thinks to preserve poor people’s homes.

I thought of the hundreds of meals eaten on the jade-green dishes, of which the little fragment was once a part. I thought of the tired, cracked hands that washed those jade-green dishes in hundreds of dishpans of hot, soapy water. I thought of the accidents (or maybe the on-purposes) that shattered those pretty dishes, a shard of which lay before me. I thought of the woman who swept up the sharp broken dish pieces and tossed them beneath the house into the crawl space, where many country families discarded their broken glassware before the days of landfills.

I thought of the hundreds of people whose homes stood where the campus is today. I thought of the Native Americans who lived here long before that—and of the animals and trees that lived here centuries before the first humans ever arrived. In another 300 years, what will stand where these buildings and sidewalks and streets and trees do today?

The little green fragment stays tucked inside my purse. I keep it there in memory of an ordinary day long gone.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

NOTE: This piece, since revised, first appeared here on 23 June 2012

 

The Daffodils That Always Mean “Home”

DaffNippedByFrost_Feb2012_COPY

Living in a small town often means commuting a long distance to work somewhere else. Before I began working from home, I drove about 90 miles round-trip to my university teaching job. While the commute itself sometimes bored me, the scenery on U.S. Highway 27 between LaGrange and Carrollton never, ever did.

So it’s March now—the month that, in the Deep South, gives us an ice storm one day and tornadoes the next. 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 replanted. In order to get them from where they are to where they’re going to be, someone has to move them 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 of the 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 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.

The daffodils pictured above are very simple, single-cup daffodils, an old variety we often see around 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 what used to be a house, anyway. 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, they took one long, last look toward the flower bed. I wonder if they wept for the flowers waiting beneath its surface, for the daffodils that always mean “home.”

Photo: “Daff Nipped by Frost” (Carroll County, Georgia – February 2012)

NOTE: Earlier versions of this post appeared here on 2 March 2015, and at Forgotten Plants & Places on 25 February 2012.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

History and Tragedy

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This stunning masterpiece of early 19th century architecture boasted 16-inch foundation beams hewn from trees that, if I read the ring counts correctly, were 350 to 400 years old in the early 1830s. The rafters in both the original structure and the circa 1890s addition were three- to five-inch saplings that had been stripped of branches and bark, then flattened on the decking side. I could still see the centuries-old axe marks.

The site on which the house once stood is on Whitesville Road, about a hundred yards from a truck stop and Interstate 85. The acreage is for sale. All the buildings are gone: the main house, the barn, the chicken coop, the slaves’ cabins, everything. No, there’s no historical marker—not even a little something that points descendants to the cemetery out back (most recent grave dated 1868). Word around town says we’ll soon have another strip mall right there. You know, because this place really, really needs another strip mall.

Just thinking about it makes me furious.

Fannin-Truitt-Handley House (built 1831-1833; demolished September 2012)
LaGrange, Georgia – 27 May 2012

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 11/9/15

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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

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

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.”

OldHeardElementary_ChairsAndDesks_04Sep2010_Crop2015

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.

OldHeardElementary_DownBankIntoPlayground_04Sep2010_Crop2015

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)

 

Abandoned Mining Camp, Leadville, Colorado

AbandonedMiningCampLeadvilleColorado_COPY_2014-08-09_12.00.39

Near Leadville, Colorado (elevation 11,200 feet) – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Waiting for the Tooth Fairy

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Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 7/22/15

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“And They Mean It, Too”
Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 7/15/15

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“High Noon, Ibex Mine”
Leadville, Colorado – 9 August 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 6/24/15

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At this shot-up sign, County Road 20 dead-ends near Rock Mills, Alabama, into State Highway 22. Years ago, just behind this sign, a rickety shack once balanced on stilt-like pillars. How no car ever missed the road’s end and crashed into that house, I will never know.

I was born in Randolph County. My childhood home is about three miles from this intersection; my grandmother’s childhood home, demolished in the 1980s, was just half a mile from here. My sister and I grew up with our grandparents about seven miles away in Glenn, Georgia.

All three places say “Home” to me.

“Bullet Holes, Either Way”
Rock Mills, Alabama – 16 June 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Former Masonic Lodge, Roanoke, Alabama

FormerMasonicLodgeRoanokeAlabama_IG_COPY_2015-03-14

This three-story office building is among the tallest in town (built early 1900s). My heart breaks to see it in such poor condition—many upper-story windows broken completely out, ceilings collapsing, chinaberry saplings growing between bricks and out of the top of the façade. With any luck, I’ll eventually gain permission from the owner to venture inside and document this beauty in ruins. The cornerstone indicates it was built to serve as a Masonic lodge.

“Former Masonic Lodge, Roanoke, Alabama”
14 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Oak over Horace King’s Grave

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Stonewall Cemetery
LaGrange, Georgia – 21 February 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Charles P. Borders: A Friend to All

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Stonewall Cemetery – LaGrange, Georgia
21 February 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)

 

Spring Breakthrough

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LaGrange, Georgia – 11 March 2015

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Hillside Monday: 3/9/2015

MissPattysPeanutBrittleRecipe_COPY_2015-03-01

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)

The Daffodils That Always Mean “Home”

DaffNippedByFrost_Feb2012_COPY

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. The U.S. 27 I knew growing up is no more—the new, four-lane highway took its place some years ago. Just the same, the new road still crosses a 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)

Sunset, Ringer’s Old Store

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Carroll County, Georgia – 16 September 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 11/26/14

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“Bank Building Façade #1”
Meansville, Georgia – 6 November 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Wednesday Photo: 11/19/14

2014-11-06 16.35.51

“Bank Building Mural, Late Afternoon”
Meansville, Georgia – 6 November 2014

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

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