Cabin in the Woods


I’ve been spending some time with my dear old Dad here in Mississippi about 40 miles out from Oxford, a charming university town and home of one of the nation’s oldest and most reputable bookstores,  Square Books and Faulkner’s Rowan Oak,  walking distance from the center of town.

Square Books

Square Books on the square. Oxford, Mississippi.

About 25 years ago, my parents found this cabin for a weekend getaway place from Memphis where they were living at the time. Not long after moving in, my mom stayed out in the woods and Dad commuted for work, joining her on the weekends. Sometime after that, they made the cabin their permanent home.cabin3

I haven’t always liked staying at the cabin. Too small; too stripped down; the surrounding area, poor and undeveloped. The racism, the sexism. When my son was little, the cabin and surrounding woods was his favorite place in the world. My mother died in this cabin on June 4, 2011. I was at her side, singing, of course. I wrote an essay about living those last three weeks of her life with her. It won an annual essay prize at Solstice magazine, and you can read all about my truly unusual and marvelous mother, Mississippi, and their cabin here: Aleatorik.

Solstice, an online magazine

Solstice magazine.

Internet is sketchy, and I drive to the town library, a converted red brick house, to work. This time, on the walls, I get to see the plaque and photographs memorializing my mother who worked tirelessly to keep this library open. mom-plaque


An amazing thing happened yesterday: Dad and I were sitting together, blankets across our legs, talking. Two faces appeared through the front door window, and I got up to answer the door. Even as they two men were entering I didn’t recognize the younger of the two, Jason, who quickly announced himself, “I was your mom’s nurse…” and then my arms were around his neck, and I was laughing and hugging him.

Jason was Mom’s hospice nurse. We were home with her less than two weeks. She didn’t have much time with Jason, but he made an impact. A young, kind man who came to help us shepherd her; or rather, to help us let her go. She loved him. She asked for him daily. He prayed with her. He even attended the memorial we held at her church. I’d forgotten that I’d written him a letter after it was all over.

And there he was, standing in my dad’s cabin. Almost 6 years gone by. Jason’s dad just bought a cabin right down the road from my father’s. I was glad to have them meet.

Tomorrow, I will spend the afternoon with an old colleague from the University of New Hampshire, Margaret-Love Denman. Margaret-Love is from the south, here, I think, (and will learn tomorrow), but she had been teaching up north for a while by the time I joined the writing staff at UNH. I interviewed her for my graduating lecture at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Some of you may even remember the stories I told about her. Many years ago, she returned to Oxford and continued teaching at Ole Miss. She’s retired now, and I can’t wait to visit. She’s a writer of fiction and co-authored a fine book on the craft: Story Matters by Margaret-Love Denman

Story Matters by Margaret-Love Denman and Barbara Shoup

Story Matters, a fiction craft book.

This evening, I listened to Dad tell me the story of how and why they went looking for this cabin. If you read Aleatorik, you’ll see I have often viewed this place, this town, this state–even my parents’ choices regarding it all–with disdain, confusion, aggravation.

Who am I to say?

Mom is gone now. And now it’s me waking daily way before my father to read and write, to walk to the lake and back, to just sit in the utter quiet and stillness and think.writing-table



About dhaines54

Dawn Denham (formerly Haines) lives in the hill country of North Central Mississippi where she's writing a book about her mentor at the Eastman School of Music mezzo-soprano Jan DeGaetani and teaching writing at Oxford High School. Her work has been published in Poets and Writers magazine, Brevity, Zone 3, Literary Mama, and WILLA. Her book with authors Jacqueline Raphael and Susan Newcomer Writing Together: Transforming Your Writing in a Writing Group was the first book of its kind published in the US. Her essay Aleatorik about her mother’s death won the 2012 Solstice magazine Creative Nonfiction prize chosen by Jerald Walker and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She received an MFA in Nonfiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts, an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from the University of Arizona, and a BM in Voice from Eastman School of Music.
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1 Response to Cabin in the Woods

  1. says:

    I am touched by the connection you made with Jason, your mom’s hospice nurse 🙂


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