Taking Root


Providence. Chaos. The wherewithal to slow down–stop–listen.

No matter. I am here now, and this happening.

I’ve been in North Mississippi since March 27. My 86-year-old father has been diagnosed, cut on, and is back home in his cabin recovering beautifully. The prognosis is excellent. I dare say, I wonder if it’s necessary for any one of us, my sisters and I, to hang around throughout the next steps of his treatment.

But I think I am. Staying, that is.

I’ve discovered a lovely blue home atop a green hill one block from Main Street Water Valley, Mississippi, about 18 miles from Oxford and 17 miles from my dad. I could ride it. I will ride it.

This house came to me quickly with its backstory and offer of an open, light, quiet place to settle, to write, to heal. To get on with my life. You can see it and learn more about the story here and you’ll see why I want to live in Water Valley, be here at this moment, right now.

Water Valley, Mississippi

Three bedroom, doors off each onto the porch, would burning stove, exposed chimney in kitchen, fruit trees and flower gardens.

I’ve applied for part-time work at Square Books in Oxford, a place I’ve written about here.

And I’ve just interviewed for a teaching job at Oxford High School teaching Composition and AP English. Each of these connections, these opportunities coming fast and fierce, compiling, sitting up and saying, Here, Go Here!

We’ll see how it all falls out, but this feels good. To be so welcomed and excited by a new community where I know I can do good work. Where I’ll be close to Dad. Where I will walk the blue-washed hardwood floors in the morning and sense peace.

I have worked sporadically on Jan’s story since arriving down here in March. I can tell you that I’ve discovered online an oral history given by Pia Gilbert at UCLA in 1988 and been reading and note-taking. There’s a piece brewing here about these two women musicians and friends, Pia and Jan. Here’s a brief section from the work:


I’ve never seen Pia Gilbert face-to-face. I don’t know what she looks like today. I probably never will.

I invent her face, her hair, a diminutive figure all from the sound of her voice. Sound. [What had Jan heard?]

I picture small bones, bird. I don’t have much mobility.

I picture tiny frame, thin, strong jawline, small face. Tiny loopy curls of wispy white and gray encircling it.

I picture pale skin. Intense dark eyes.

I hear in her voice pebbles in the path, moisture tumbling these stones against throat, larynx, breath.

I hear kindness and earnestness. And un-urgency, though certainly she knows this won’t last much longer.

Pia is almost ninety-five. [Today, Jan would be 84.] She says, I never know how old anybody is. We agree, it doesn’t matter. But at 95, it does matter to Pia who declares she feels old and doesn’t accept it.

I don’t know what to do. It’s becoming more of a question.

She is German. Come to this country in 1937.  In time. Decades of living, composing, and teaching in Los Angeles and New York, and still the sound of her language rides the edges of her English.

They were friends. Everyone just knew that we were very close.

When we said goodbye, she called me Dear.


I had my bike shipped a week ago because it’s moving fast from Spring to Summer here, and the roads and air quality are calling. Been doing a few short loops to put on miles. Have discovered paved Rails to Trail nearby and a bike shop in Oxford with a riding community.  Check out this backside of the lake where my father lives. And Happy Trails. Take the curve. Go a mile farther. You know the rest. bike

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.
This entry was posted in Cycling, Dawn's Journey, Excerpt from Book, Fun Research Tidbit, Images, Reflecting on Jan, Reflection and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Taking Root

  1. Pingback: Jan DeGaetani and Houlka, MS | The Stream and the Broken Pottery: a blog by Dawn Haines

  2. Pingback: Jan DeGaetani and Composer Pia Gilbert | The Stream and the Broken Pottery: a blog by Dawn Haines

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