R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Tag: Forgotten Plants & Places (page 1 of 9)

Georgia 109 Spur

Sunday, summer. Hot. Humid.
Nearly a hundred at a quarter til noon.
How the world stays plump and green in this steam, I do not know.

In the opposite lane, warming itself: a box turtle. No—a pinecone.
In my lane, warming itself: a shredded fan belt. No—a king snake.
Wheels dodge, spin past.
Neither moves.

By the old Whatley place, two does materialize. From the furry green ditch, their eyes ask permission. I slow. They traverse the double yellow line, as always graceful yet unsure, as always one at a time.

A squirrel, bushy tail an eternal question mark, never asks permission. Zig-zag-zig-zigzig-zag-ZIG! across pavement and almost-not-safely into tall grass.

In the hollow by the Primitive Baptist cemetery, a great blue heron glides across the tops of the pines. Wide blue-gray wings, yellow legs, crooked flight-neck: hello, hello, goodbye.

All an omen, all a blessing—all a signal of hope.

© R. S. Williams (all rights reserved)

Note: This encore post first appeared on 22 June 2014.

 

A Story for All Hallows’ Eve

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 even 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 about the house that I always heard 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)

 

Friday Photo: 10/27/17


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

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Wednesday Photo: 10/25/17


“Waiting on a Train, Part 17”
Anniston, Alabama – 12 August 2017

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Friday Photo: 10/20/17

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

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Things I Have Overheard at Funerals

Note: All identifying details have been changed.

B:  Who’s that talking up there now?
A:  You don’t recognize her?
B:  Uh-uh.
A:  That’s Barbara.
B:  Barbara?
A:  Larry’s first wife. 
B:  No way!
C:  Yep, that’s her. 
B:  Damn. She sure has aged.
C:  More like “put on 50 pounds.”

*******

PASTOR:  So she asked that everyone gather at the graveside, family and friends, and everyone who wanted to could stand up and say one thing about her, good OR bad…
C:  Aww, that’s sweet.
B:  No, it ain’t.
C:  Why not?
B:  [points] Well, first up is J_____, with A______ in the on-deck circle…
A:  Shit. We’re gonna be here all day.

*******

A:  Your grandma just looooved to talk.
B:  Yep. So it’s fittin’ how she died: eyes closed, mouth open.

*******

A:  When your mama and daddy pass on, what’s your brother gonna do?
B:  Without.

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Wednesday Photo: 10/4/17

“Afternoon in the Woods, Late Summer”
Heard County, Georgia – 3 August 2017

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Friday Photo: 09/29/17

“Running the Corn-Tomato Gauntlet”
Heard County, Georgia – 4 July 2017

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On My Sister’s 42nd Birthday 


Today is my sister’s 42nd birthday. For almost all of those 42 years, she has been my absolute best friend—my true “other half.” So, to celebrate her special day and our lifelong bond, I tell you the following story.

For one of her electives at Georgia Tech, Val took an upper-division English course called “The Grotesque in Literature.” It was a fascinating class, and covered a wide range of works, such as The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais and Geek Love  by Katherine Dunn. The roster was full of intelligent, well-read students. The professor’s lectures and discussions always got everyone thinking and talking in depth about the function of Carnival/the carnivalesque and “the grotesque body” in literature. (That’s all from Mikhail Bahktin. Go look it up on your own; I don’t have time to explain.)

What a dream course. It wounded me not to be able to audit that class, or even sit in on a session. Imagine my joy, then, when Val told me her professor would be giving a Friday afternoon guest lecture at the University of Georgia, where I was completing my senior year.

When the day arrived, Dr. H_____’s lecture was excellent. After it was over, I shook Dr. H_____’s hand and thanked him for his talk. I explained that my sister was in his 4000-level “Grotesque in Lit” course, and that I’d been enjoying the class vicariously through her. He seemed surprised yet happy that at least one student at another college had been following the course through someone enrolled in it.

The next week, Val’s class met again. As the period began, Dr. H_____ told everyone about his Athens trip. “Over the weekend, I gave a guest lecture at UGA. Afterwards, I met Val’s sister, who’s an English major there. And as we talked, all I could think was, ‘My God, Val has possessed this woman’s body, and is speaking to me through her.’ It was like there was one soul in two bodies.”

“One soul in two bodies.” That’s a good way to explain it.

Happy birthday, Bla.
I love you so much—and I always will.

Photo: “Valerie and Rachael with Bo the Dog” (Rock Mills, Alabama – August 1978)

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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
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Somewhere in Harris County, Georgia


Driving down Georgia Highway 219 to Columbus, I saw the broken, furry heap slumped at the edge of the asphalt, just beyond the white line. It was a long-haired miniature Dachshund. Someone had loved it enough to dress it in a little Christmas sweater.

You could’ve heard my heart shatter from ten miles away.

As the car and I zoomed past, I made plans for the trip home. On my way back to LaGrange, I’d pull over and see if the dog had a collar and tag. That way, I could call its people with the sad news. If not, I’d move the poor little thing off the road, so it wouldn’t get mashed and scattered about by the tires of passing cars and log trucks. That was the least I could do: give a helpless creature the bit of dignity in death that had escaped it in life.

It was almost dark when I returned. I stopped the car on the side of the road, about 75 feet from the pitiful carcass. That was the safest place to park on the curvy, hilly two-lane road. I walked back to where I’d seen the little dog early that morning. The knot in my stomach grew. It always does, when I stop to move dead animals out of the highway.

And there it—wait. What?

Nope, no dead weenie dog in a fancy sweater. Instead, there lay two beautiful ceramic dolls. Both were a little scraped up from the fall onto the pavement, but still in good shape. 

I peered down the bank into the ditch. Strewn for maybe 50 yards were all kinds of items: a few household gadgets, some discarded clothing, pieces of children’s toys, a little garbage. All of it, dolls included, must’ve flown unsecured out of the bed of someone’s pickup truck.

Funny what we think we see when we’re moving by at 70 miles per hour.

All I could think of was some little girl—or maybe a not-so-little girl—sick with panic over her missing dolls. I gently picked them up and carried them back to the car. They looked so sad lying there in the passenger seat. But I thought it a shame to leave them lonely and abandoned by the side of the highway.

That was seven years ago.
I never found the dolls’ little girl.

Photo: Roadside Dolls (17 September 2017)

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Wednesday Photo: 9/6/17

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

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Moonlight

I walked outdoors in the cool air to watch the near-full moon, and wondered how many other people were watching it, too. “No matter what divides us,” I thought as I climbed into the back of the little truck, “this silver light falls on us all, falls on everybody the same way.” Even that which decays by day transmogrifies come night into grotesque, strange beauty.

As I reclined against the corrugated bed, I gazed into the night sky and thought of all the people I know. I thought of the people I know who are traveling, who are coming home, who are working, who are hurting, who are lonely, who are frightened, who don’t know what to do next.

Some live nearby, while many others live far away. Many know I care about them. Others don’t. A few would rather not even think about it. Many I haven’t seen in years; some I’ve never met. Some I won’t see again until I’m on the other side.

How I love them all.

Under the silver light of the moon, I held every one of them close to my heart, and sobbed. I climbed out of the truck bed, and stumbled back indoors.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Friday Photo: 8/11/17

“Sunset on the Chattahoochee”
Franklin, Georgia – 1 July 2017

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Hillside Monday: 8/7/17

“For Wes, Part 4”
LaGrange, Georgia – 23 July 2017
To be continued…

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Wednesday Photo: 7/19/17

“Whitley, with Yellow Cherry Tomatoes”
Heard County, Georgia – 4 July 2017

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Hillside Monday: 6/19/17

“Detail, Restored Coca-Cola Mural, Doc Spier’s Place”
LaGrange, Georgia – 24 October 2014

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Friday Photo: 5/26/17

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

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Wednesday Photo: 5/24/17

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

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Hillside Monday: 5/22/17

“Peony Globe”
LaGrange, Georgia – 10 May 2013

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