To Love a Dog

During the first phase of my early morning walk, thin clouds of cold fog drift over the mountains, and I move as slowly as ice melting. It is autumn, and on this moist morning the forest appears to be a landscape painted in the impasto technique, painted in colors rich and textured, painted in pigments of burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, lemon yellow, hunter green, Prussian blue, cerulean blue, raw umber, venetian red, and yellow ochre. I am in awe of a thousand colors spread undiluted and wet over the forest.

Brody walks beside me. He's a bull-boxer. As the day dawns, I have no way of knowing this will be his last autumn in these mountains. We have explored the woods together for many years. I've been told that dogs can’t see the numerous color variations we humans see. Perhaps Brody doesn’t detect the artist’s palette, but I am sure he spots and feels things I will never know, never experience, never even imagine.

The sun finds the mountain tops, and shafts of pale sunlight come down the mountainside, shimmering on every color of nature. Trees whisper and slow dance. The sun spills like liquid into the creek. 

As I return to the mountains, without Brody, his body buried in the garden he loved, I feel his spirit surrounding me, rustling in the bushes and leaves, his presence so real I whisper his name. Standing at the creek we explored together, tears fill my eyes. My friend is gone.

I remember the night Richard and I took possession of him. We had arranged to meet the owner in the parking lot of my brother's car dealership in Macon. Sutton Acura. Right off the interstate. An easy location. Brody's adopted family could no longer keep him. He needed a yard and a place to run. 

Standing on the banks of the creek, I relive the night Brody adopts us. I remember waiting in the dark, headlights approaching. A car pulls up. The driver, the only human in the car, parks and gets out. The young man greets my husband and me. He opens the rear car door and a beautiful, energetic dog jumps from the seat. 

I see these moments in present tense. Brody jumps on us, licks us, runs around us, jumps on us again. I hear our laughter. The night is warm.

The young man hands the leash to me, and Brody turns, watches the man in the 4-door sedan drive away. I see my dog take a few steps toward the car and I hear his bark. Is he telling the man goodbye? Is he wondering why he has been left behind? He turns to me and my husband, walks with us to our car, and never looks back again. These memories dazzle like slivers of glass floating on water.

In the coming years, Brody hunts for old graves with me. We explore abandoned houses and walk along the Alapaha River. Together we skirt through vines to reach barns suffocating under kudzu. He stays with me when my shirt is caught in barbed wire. He waits for me to free myself. When I am lost, he walks with me. When I cry, he licks my tears. When I need to laugh, he plays.

He becomes my son's best friend and sleeps with him every night. Autism doesn't bother Brody.

He falls in love with my daughter and meets her at the door when she visits.

I am in the hills. Alone. The sun finds the mountaintops, and shafts of pale sunlight come down the mountainside, glistening on everything in its path. With eyes wide open, I once again watch the sun spilling into the creek. I whisper his name. Brody.

The day we put him down, he is in terrible pain and can no longer walk. There is no hope. His eyes prod our faces. In our den, I hold him and the family gathers beside us. The vet injects the only miracle left for our dog, injects it into his leg, the only cure for his pain, and Brody closes his eyes with a final breath. Tension washes away from his neck and limbs. He floats away.

I blink from my tears, and Brody is gone.

We are one lucky family to have known this dog's love.

Life is beautiful. 


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Addition and Subtraction

It is a Tuesday.
The month is July.

In two days my mother will be dead.

As a writer I know to build the suspense one scene at a time. I know to stretch the tension. The rules of style, though I disagree with many of them, are tattooed inside me. But this is my story and I will tell it the way I want. To hell with rules. To hell with building suspense. Let's jump to the ending: In two days my mother will be dead.

Years ago I studied business and accounting, racing back and forth to classes while my children were at school, yet business and accounting didn't add up to the sum of my heart. From Chicago I dialed my mother's long distance number and she answered in South Georgia after two rings.  It took me less than 45 seconds to tell her I really wanted to be an “A” student.  She heard me speak of consonants and vowels.  She asked, “But isn’t a 4.0 an A? And you are a 4.0 student.”  

I responded, “Not really.  An "A" is the first letter of the alphabet.  If I wrote words, I would fall in love with A’s. But I write numbers and I will never fall in love with a 3.8 or a 4.0.” 

My mother did not understand.

I was filled with wine when I made that phone call.

Later, I took up an ink pen and learned the checks and balances of writing fiction. Writers learn pace and rhythm and timing and character development. Don’t feed the reader the ending too soon. Build tension.  Show. Do Not Tell. Never reveal too much too soon. Every textbook I owned said, “Wait.”

Waiting hurts.

I am not the first to break the rules of fiction.

But this is not fiction.

It is Tuesday.

And that's a fact.

My brother, my mother's middle son, knew something didn’t add up so he called the doctor, and she landed in the hospital.

Let’s do the addition.  My mother is admitted to the hospital in Macon. Monday, fourteen days after she is put in a room, we, her children, walk into the conference room to talk with the doctor. He holds her death sentence in his hands.  

Death sentence = CAT scan.  

We seat ourselves in chairs arranged in the shape of a U. I think quadratics. Eight of us are present. Some are missing, but we’ll keep the equation simple.

Cough + Pneumonia + Low sodium + Rib pain =  Advanced Lung Cancer.

Advanced lung cancer = 4 days.

In some instances, you will find a non-smoker in an equation of lung cancer.
My mother never smoked.

I watch her morphine drip. 

Drip / Drip / Drip / Drip. 

Minutes drip past.  Pain drowns in morphine.

On Monday she tells me to write about her life.  Tuesday, she no longer speaks. Twenty-four hours is the sum of silence, yet silence does not equal death. Not yet. Silence = Silence.

I sing to her in a near whisper, my soprano voice feathery, floating down in a slow dance, songs she sang to me when I was a child. A nurse stands in the doorway. She listens. Darkness swallows the room, drinks it up, as the night tastes my sorrow and hears my song, as the sheets sleep. The nurse in white will tell me to hush.  I know she will. 

She doesn't /  Tell me to hush / She props the door open / I croon softly / Snowflakes breathe me.

When I am not singing, and when I am not whispering, I count the seconds between my mother's breaths. One plus one plus / one plus one / plus one plus one / equals a breath. 
A breath plus one / plus one / plus one plus / one plus one plus / one equals another breath.  

Twenty-eight years ago I timed my contractions using subtraction.  First, I arrived at a number. As more contractions arrived, I turned to subtraction. 5 minutes dropped to 4 minutes dropped to 3 minutes. It didn’t take long for the contractions to rain down on me. Pain erased time and I called a taxi to take me to the hospital. Minutes disappeared into new life. New life arrived as a tiny girl with red hair and blue eyes.  Birth has a lot to do with subtraction.

Unlike birth, death requires addition. 4 seconds stretch into 6 seconds stretch into 8 seconds stretch into 10 seconds until we are not sure if she will ever take another breath. Time adds seconds between breaths until life eventually disappears into death. Nothing goes in and nothing comes out. Nothing.

One plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one plus one. The hospice nurse counts along with me, reciting the same poem.

Outside, clouds swell and bulge and drip rain like milk from lactating breasts.

She is given her diagnosis on a Monday, 14 days after getting a bed in the hospital.   

It is Tuesday.   

We don't know it yet, but she will be gone Thursday at approximately 1:00 PM, give or take a few seconds, add or subtract a few breaths, a few memories.



She breastfed me when I was born.  It is impossible for me to remember those early months of my life, yet when I offered my breast to my firstborn, my mother told me she nursed me.  For 9 months she carried me in her womb and for another 9 months she breastfed me. 9+9=18. That’s more time than she has left to live. She doesn't even have 18 days left.

I tell her I cherished the minutes, the hours, the months I spent breastfeeding my babies, examining their ears as I held them in my arms.  My mother does not respond. I confess to her I cradled my babies as though they were the last poems left on earth, and I the author of those poems. My children were a single chapbook consisting of two perfect poems. One girl. One boy.  Their fingers, their lips, their eyes, their smacks, their gurgles, their ears, their hair. I memorized them. I know them by heart. I can recite my children. I will cradle my two poems forever. 

I tell my dying silent mother about the music of poetry, explaining assonance, repetition, alliteration, rich consonance and partial consonance. In the room of addition, I speak of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. A nurse hears me saying I like to read the fiction of Silas House and Sena Jeter Naslund. The nurse asks me about my favorite poets.  I turn and take in her green eyes, the color of spring, and tell her the poets I like most are people I know or have met.  She shakes her head when I say I like to meet my poets, look in their eyes, hear the tenor of their voices, search their faces for truth and rust and untold secrets. Jeff Newberry. Christopher Martin. Janisse Ray. Judson Mitcham. William Wright. Thomas Rain Crowe. Clint McCown. Sherod Santos. As the list goes on, the nurse asks about dead poets.  I tell her I have never met any dead poets.  She smiles at my attempt to be funny, then informs me that my mother is too far gone to speak, but I should feel free to talk to her all I want. Perhaps she hears me.  Perhaps she doesn't. The morphine drips, every drop a stressed syllable.  The nurse leaves the room and leaves me looking into a face cracked with age.  

I hear my mother's history thumping behind me. I feel the stains of her life covering my flesh.

If my mother hears, she hears me say I have no passion for numbers.  Never did. Numbers weigh heavy on me. 

Writing clings with soft arms and smells as fertile as a rich acre. Memory holds me in place. 

She does not speak. In her silence, she is the truest poem I've ever read. I taste the stanzas of her life.

On Thursday, I no longer count.  I simply sit, and I wait, not as a writer, not as a student of accounting who has forgotten all about numbers and can barely balance the checkbook.

I wait as this dying woman's daughter.

I am soaked in farewells.

We, her children, take turns sitting with her.
She is never alone.
Children. Grandchildren. Friends.
By noon, silence arrives one last time, flowing into every space of her room. And before long, silence swallows sound and color and seconds and equations and entire stanzas of old poetry, leaving new words. The sheets are breathless. The room is bruised. 
My mother is still warm. 


My kisses and tears cover her face and forehead. I add chapstick to her lips, first across the bottom, then across the top. I do not count. The counting is gone. Loved ones are here. I climb into her bed and wrap myself over her empty body. 

Weeks later, I find words sleeping on my pillow.

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Brenda Sutton Rose is the author Dogwood Blues

Sunset Over Tifton's Cotton Mill Village

There was once a cotton mill village in Tifton, Georgia.

Watch out for these cowboys with their guns! Probably BB guns, and I suspect it may be Christmas.

Sidney Hayes, mowing the lawn.

Looks like Christmas to me.

One of my sister's dearest friends shared with me her memories of living at the cotton mill village. She, her sisters, and a brother lived in the village for many years with her mother and father.

The school bus I rode as a child passed the cotton mill, but I never thought much about the neighborhood of houses. It was another community, one I knew nothing about.

Outdoor toilet in background.
My sister's friend remembered the time well. One of the sisters washed clothes on the front porch with a wringer washing machine. The girls took turns taking the slop jar out to empty in the concrete outhouses behind their mill house. Then they would clean the jar and put it inside for the next night. 

She said they ran clothes through two tubs of water before hanging the clothes on the line in freezing weather. The clothes would dry stiff from the hard water, so they would sprinkle the laundry with a mixture of water and coca cola from a metal sprinkler, then iron the rock-hard laundry to soften it.

Mr. A.P. Walker in the center worked at the mill for 60 years.
They played outside with sticks. Sticks became guns; sticks became bows and arrows; sticks became swords. 

When the oldest of the sisters was 15 years old, the family got their first television and moved from a 4-room house to a larger cotton mill house, one with six rooms.

Another sister told me this: 
“The smoke stack was way cool. It looked like it swayed if you stood at the bottom and looked up. Daddy was a doffer and Mama was a winder operator. I remember going to work with my Daddy sometimes. He worked 70-80 hours some weeks, I've heard, and part of that was a night security type shift. He would walk around with a key to clock in to these timer things encased in black leather hanging in different spots around the mill. It was empty most of the time when I was there with him. It was so quiet and the oil they cleaned the floors with was very pungent. The floors were beautiful and shiny. He would buy me a Zero bar from the vending machine in the break room, which I thought was super grand. Mama would bring home goodies, like gold flake cheese crackers and spearmint gum, in her apron. She sewed all of her aprons she used at the mill. I still wear a sweater and some gloves that were made from thread that came from the mill. The funny thing is she wore polyester shirts while she worked so the cotton wouldn't stick to her...ha! She worked there 42 years but because they had no maternity leave or any kind of benefits, she had only about 16 years of seniority....ha. She had to quit work every time she had a baby....7 of us!”

Remnants of the cotton mill village echo with memories of the past. The sweet music of laughter carries through the remaining pecan trees. I took a long walk over the grounds, and everywhere I looked—in the abandoned mill, in the empty lot that once housed Emanuel School, on the earth once cluttered with village houses, in the rotting wood of Bessie Tift Church— I imagined hearing a song that celebrated family love in the face of poverty, hard work, laughter, and tears.

While interviewing people for the cotton mill reunion, a man told me the sunsets viewed from the mill village were more beautiful than anywhere else in Tifton. 

I asked, “Why do you say that?” 

He said, “Because we were usually outside when the sun set in the sky. We were outside playing and we wrapped out hearts around those setting suns.”

Peggy Jean Barker, Jane Walker, Carolyn Dees, Brenda Hayes, and Mary Lee Hayes

Ready for Easter Sunday services

Mamie Moore, Brenda Hayes, and Sidney Hayes

Roscoe Bannister
Lamar Kennedy and Sidney Hayes

I wish I could have lived in the cotton mill village for a week.

The Georgia Museum of Agriculture hosted a preview of their first traveling exhibit featuring the story of the Young Family who worked at the Tifton Cotton Mill 105 years ago.  Joe Manning, the Massachusetts historian who tracked down the Youngs’ story and reunited the family gave a presentation.

Carson and Ethel Dees

Brenda and Sidney Hayes

Preacher Bannister and Granny Walker
Thank you to Mary Sheppard for providing most of these photos.

Thank you to Mamie Kimbrell, Deborah Jordan, Judy Evans, Sue Rice for everything, absolutely everything.

Thank you to Gerald Jordan and Hal Sutton for taking me inside the cotton mill.

Originally posted in 2014.

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