Thursday, January 24, 2013


By Gary Carden

   Sometimes, when I wake up in this old dilapidated farmhouse in Rhodes Cove, I smell my grandmother’s biscuits and hear the coffee pot chugging on the Home Comfort stove in the kitchen.  I’ve learned the hard way that , actually, I am alone here, except for Jack, my jack russell and Booger, my senile cat. There were mornings a decade ago when I used to get my pants on and walk cautiously  to the kitchen, half-believing that Agnes Carden would be there, putting a plate of biscuits in the warming closet and stirring a pan of milk gravy while she hummed “I Come to the Garden Alone.”  I always found a cold and empty room with only the smell of sour milk and Booger’s cat food.

   Dreams are tricksters, you know.  They are crafty and deceitful, full of comforting lies. That doesn’t mean that they are bad. Maybe the right word is “therapeutic” or “palliative.” I think that their purpose is to reassure me ... to tempt me to wrap myself in my electric blanket and burrow a little deeper (into what could be my grandmother’s quilts) as a spring morning in 1952 unfolds.  If I listen carefully (Of course, my friends know that I am deaf without my “ear button), I will hear my grandfather return from milking the cow. My uncle Albert will finally awake complaining about headaches and insomnia. Someone, (probably me) turns on the old Silvertone radio and Reed Wilson, the announcer at WWNC begins playing Guy Lombardo and Artie Shaw. That is when I helplessly drop into a world that is a memory wrapped in a dream.

   Why, out of all of the thousands of days and nights, why am I dreaming of a spring morning in 1952 when my memory (and there is the other crafty trickster) whispers “relish these sounds and smells. They may not come again.”  In retrospect, I belatedly realize that I was probably happy then. I didn’t know it, of course and spent much of my time grieving  for  the heart of a cold-hearted cheerleader. Also, I now realize that I usually dreamed of being a teenager.  One of my favorites is:  I find myself in my grandfather’s ’51 Chevrolet, speeding up the old Waynesville road towards Balsam Gap. The car is filled with the smell of Old Spice and I’m wearing my black slacks with the pink pleat (that is true! I am embarrassed by my Jimmy Dean hairdo) and a white pullover corduroy shirt with the collar turned up (just like Jimmy Dean).  It is night and I am on my way to pick up my date, Polly.  Randy’s Record Mart is on full-blast and the Dreamweavers are singing “It’s Almost Tomorrow,” and I am singing along:

Its almost tomorrow, but what can I do?
Your kisses all tell me that your love is untrue.

   But this is the strange part of this dream. I never get to Polly’s house.  We never get to the party at Balsam Gap. The entire dream consists of going, going, going and the Dreamweavers keep singing. But, I never get there.  Even so,I always wake up feeling refreshed and hopeful. I guess this is what Joseph Campbell meant when he said, “The joy is in the journey, not in reaching the destination.”

   In dreams I also revisit my disappointments: the girls who ignored me (and there were a lot); the jobs I lost and the plans that didn’t work out.  But in these dreams, I get a second chance.  Quince Ann and Doris take my hand and stare at me worshipfully and a half-dozen high school principals and college deans smile as they say “Good job, Carden.” In my dreams, all of my mistakes vanish, and I bask in the warmth of approval.  Perhaps that is what dreams/memory are for.  Memory erases the shameful moments that reveal just how unlovable we lacking in courage and/or grace.  They replace it with something witty and clever that you said, a courageous act you performed.

   So, here I am back in that same cold bed. I have lost my teeth and my hearing, but I am emerging from a dream in which I did something remarkable like...doing the tango at the Junior-Senior Prom to thunderous applause ... or I accepted the Teacher of the Year Award at the White House... or I punched out that sneering drunk at Troy’s Drive-In.  (Actually, he punched me out in front of my friends, one of which later said, “Gary, when he hit you the second time, it made me so mad, I almost got out of the car.”

   I suspect that there is something maternal and nurturing about these tricksters.  Maybe they are in league and they are dedicated to comforting you, even if they have to fabricate a bit.  Maybe they come in your sleep and whisper, “You weren’t so bad, kid.  You deserve a bit of joy, even if we have to make it up.  Now, let’s revisit the Senior Trip to Washington in 1953 and make you the mythical lover you were meant to be.”


  1. I seriously wish those Comforting Lies dreams would visit me. Usually I am in the midst of a home invasion (with me as the invaded), or forced to take a life-or-death journey from place to place only on ropes stretched from mountain to mountain for hundreds of miles. Some orangutang's dream has gotten into mine. Lucky you, I wish the dream gods were taking new applications.

  2. It isn't alway marvelous. One of the most dreaded ones is, I am back in graduate school and I can't find my class and there is no room in the dorm and I wander from room to room trying to find my room. I haven't attended a class yet and don't know where they and I am pretty sure that I have missed so many classes, I have been dropped from the roll but I keep trudging on from classrooms to dorm to administration where I am told that I am not going to graduate if I don't attend class and take tests. The future looks grim and I don't know anyone and find myself ignored by all of these young, healthy students who chatter around me as they run and skip to class. The other variation of this is, I am in a play but I have memorized the lines from another play and I am desperately trying to bluff my way out of scenes in which I don't belong.

  3. Gary-wonderful post. I've often wondered why our minds go back to days so far in the past-how those days and times stick with us when most of the time I can't remember what day of the month it is!

    I haven't lived with Granny and Pap in almost 20 years. But sometimes when I lay down at night and the house becomes quiet-I swear I hear Pap open the basement door and look down the steps like he did every night before he went to bed when I was a child. Pap isn't a fearful person-so I know he wasn't making sure no one was there-I guess he was looking to see if any pipes were leaking or any thing else was amiss before he turned in for the night.

  4. My grandfather would rise in the night and walk through the house in his long-johns, walking through the kitchen to the back porch where the water trough was. The water ran all the time and came from a spring on the mountain through hollowed-out pine logs fitted together. It was so cold, the water fogged when it came out, chilling the crocks and jars of milk and buttermilk. He had an old gourd dipper and he would catch it full and drink, the water running down the gourd handle and out onto his arm and the he would say, "Ahhh, Boyz!" and then he would go back to bed. When I came home one night twenty years ago to the old house and crawled through a window and prowled through the house that was empty with no electricity, and found a quilt and crawled into an old bed, I awoke to hear my grandpa making his journey to the back porch, and it seemed right and real. If he was a spook, he was a nice spook.

  5. While searching for info. about questions that had arisen lately, I saw your site and thought, " could that be"? I was born and raised on the street above your folks,(I believe it is now Love Ave.) and your probably knew my siblings in school. Bob,Walt,Dot, and Lib? Rhodes Cove was a great place to grow up in the 50's and 60's. The bulk of my life has been away from Sylva and N.C. but the few times I have made it back have always brought the sense of home back. It is a joy to read about the area and I will now endeavor to find as much about local writers there, such as yourself, who know and apreciate the same. After years of world travel and work, it is good to know that yes, you can go home again.

  6. No, you can't. It saddens me to say that, but no, you can't step in the same river twice. The cove has changed and I have changed. The road is paved, the rain crows are gone as are my teeth and hearing. I am not now the callow youth I was then when I used to watch Bob and Walt and Darrel Monteith pass a baseball back and forth. But there is a faint echo from what used to be here when there were still cows and grapevine swings. I left Sylva, too, but I didn't go far. Georgia, Banner Elk, Gastonia.....but when I came home one night and crawled through the window in the old house where I grew up, the address was different and the water didn't run to the back porch any more. I talk to Darrel now and then, (He wants to be called "Jim" now.) He lives in Charlotte and is retired and living in one of those upscale retirement communities. Dennis died several years ago, but people still talk about his flowers and his greenhouse.