Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted




by Ferris Gilli


Two days ago, on her ninety-sixth birthday, Lavender Susan Jones was the oldest citizen in my small hometown. That afternoon, the town threw her a party on the lawn of the Swannee Hotel that lasted into the summer night. There was dancing in the streets, and after Miss Lavender had her fill of dancing, the mayor announced that River Road had been officially renamed Lavender Street, in her honor. 

Miss Lavender had stopped driving when she was ninety-two, but she was still getting around town just fine on her own pins. Her memory was wonderful, and she didn’t have much patience with whiners. She’d had a lifetime of practicing patience in other areas. 

Some time back, when I was recovering from divorce, I told her I was afraid I had ruined my life. I think I was whining some. Miss Lavender squinted at me as she caressed the black, worn crook of her cane. Her knotty, bony fingers curled around the wood like pieces of dark root from the same ancient tree. Then she slapped her knee and laughed, as if I’d cracked a great joke. 

Miss Lavender told me I hadn't come anywhere near ruining my life. "Now you listen to me, daughter. I'm going to tell you what I tell all my children. Being blinded and crippled or sent to prison are about the only things that can ruin your life. And plenty of people have overcome even those misfortunes. Death is the only last straw. 

"So stay away from firecrackers, drugs, easy money, and fast cars — and stay away from people who don't! Your chances for a good, long stay on earth will be a whole lot better." 

Another day, not so long ago, I was talking with Miss Lavender. The conversation went something like this: 

"Honey, where are you working now?" 

"Well, I'm, uh, I'm trying to write, to get some books published." 

She pondered this a minute or two.  "A writer. Books.  Good ones, like in the library, and on the rack at the grocery store?" 

"Yes ma'am." 

"Hum. And if you don't have a job, what are you doing with your time?" 

"That's it. Writing. I spend more time writing than I would at a full-time job." 

"So it ain't real easy?" 

"No ma'am. Sometimes I don't know where the next word will come from." 

"How much money can you make from these books?" 

"Not very much, at first. I haven't had one published yet.  It's really hard to sell something when you're a beginning writer, Miss Lavender. Sometimes I think I'm crazy to even try." 

"Lord have mercy, it does make you wonder. Well, why do you?  Why are you trying to be a writer, sugar? Why'd you start it?" 

I pressed my hands to my chest. "I have to!" 

She looked at me, sizing me up.Took off her thick-lensed glasses and polished each lens on the hem of her bright red cardigan. I thought of the dozens of rejection slips I'd received, and the few scribbled lines of encouragement from a few merciful editors.

Replacing her glasses, Miss Lavender smiled at me. "You got a dream, don't you, baby?" she said, and coming from her, it sounded like a prayer. 

"Yes ma'am, and with my little girl, I know I shouldn't take chances with my livelihood like this. I should just let it go." 

To my surprise, she drew back, and made her eyes even wider behind the bottle-glass lenses. "Let it go? Let it go?  Darlin’, you've got a dream! It won't let you go!  Don't you know that, sugar?" 

"Well, I . . ." 

"Now, you might insult it by tryin to abandon it, but it won't never abandon you. It's stuck with you, and you're stuck with it. Would you just quit?" 

"No ma'am. But it's so hard, and I get so scared . . ." 

"Hard! Scared!  Don't make me ashamed of you. What kind of disadvantages were you born with, sugar?" 

"None. I was born with more advantages than you can shake a stick at. But you don't understand . . ." 

I was really starting to tee her off. "I understand!  Do you?  Where you been, daughter? Don't you know nothin about dreams? Let me tell you about Doctor King—" 

"Miss Lavender, stop! You don't have to tell me about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington Carver and Helen Keller and Martin Luther King, and about a million others. Okay, you're right. But I'm still scared." 

She patted my shoulder. "That's all right, baby.  They were all scared sometime. Don't turn loose of your dream, baby.  You can't turn your back on it, it's part of you." 

"All right, I'll hang on. Thank you, ma'am." 

"Well, what are you gone write about when you get cranked up again?" 

"Maybe I'll write about you." 

"Lord have mercy! Huh! Well, you do that. And be sure to put in what I said about not turnin loose. Let folks read about that, darlin. Huh. I hope I live long enough to read about it."

Today I stood on Miss Lavender’s front porch, shoulders back and chin up, dressed to the nines just for her. A few seconds after my knock, her son Lincoln opened the door.  Lincoln is in his seventies. “Come on in, Honey, Mama’s in the parlor. She seems mighty peaceful.”  

Drawing a deep breath, I followed him into the small adjoining room that Miss Lavender kept ready for special guests, such as visiting royalty. Today she occupied the place of honor. She did indeed look peaceful in that gleaming casket made of solid walnut. Suddenly desperate to hear her voice one more time, I started crying, and Lincoln put his arms around me and gently patted my back. “She just died in her sleep, you know,” he said, “without any kind of fuss. Look here what she finished reading before she went to bed that night.”

He turned me around to look at a low table that held a lamp, a stack of papers, and a pair of thick-lensed glasses. In shaky but bold strokes, Miss Lavender had written on the cover page of my first finished manuscript: “You make me sound too good. Throw in some shortcomings!”   



Last summer began thick and slow
and sweet with heavy magnolia blooms
above little girls playing jacks
in the brown Georgia dust
Old Cap Washington sat in Irene's Restaurant
and dared us to make him move
he thought he was still segregated
so Irene gave him a free dinner for being brave

Sister Whaley got pregnant
and refused to marry the boy
who didn't love her and she wouldn't
get rid of it either
thank goodness for Sister
her daddy was already dead
and her mama knew how to spit
in somebody's eye

When Terry Joe Spencer came out of the closet
he felt spit of another kind
and went back in without checking
the sky for bad weather
A little spit don't mean a flood
but Lois Powell's spit
is worse than rattler venom till you get used to it
Terry Joe ran off with a man from Atlanta
Terry told his mama not to worry
they're negative and faithful but she knows
they're only human

he still sends her a check every week
Then nearly the whole town
got pissed off because Hugh Smallway came back
after ten years of no letters and no money
and tried to get his kids back from Leona
Jimmy Smallway shot Hugh dead
for hurtin his mama that boy had had enough
and the judge didn't think about it five minutes
Jimmy's on probation till he's twelve that's all
Lord this summer is startin out
to be a scorcher already
that Jimmy Smallway he'll be
twelve next week



"Heat" first appeared in the National League of American Pen Women, Seattle Branch: Award-winning Poetry 2000.

Ferris Gilli, on "Don't Turn Loose":

"Miss Lavender is a composite of several women of color, each of whom taught me social graces and values that can't be learned from books. Children learn best by example, from those people who are most present in their daily lives.  I had the best teachers. Without anyone ever telling me so, I learned before I could talk that color is only skin deep.  Joy taught me how to iron and make bacon-fat biscuits and that God likes to hear His children sing. Hasty taught me that people who keep their minds and mouths clean shine from the inside, and that we must be shiny when we visit the Lord's house. Willene and Jane taught me that for dreams to come true, first we must have the dreams. From Spring I learned that "family" is not limited to kinship through marriage or blood. Doll taught me how to read the weather and that the greatest courage is often simply quiet dignity." 

A.T. on Ferris Gilli:

Ferris is a multi-talented author, judge and teacher. Read her FOUR O'CLOCKS in the Virtuous Medlar Circle. I won't repeat the bio note I wrote there, nor the links to her poetry, but I will reprint one of my favourite poems of all time here, a haiku by Ferris Gilli. Personally, I have no truck with the Lord, but in the hands of Ferris and those she loves, he behaves himself, and religion is what religion could be about. Anyway, I'll get off my pulpit now and share this beauty with you.


for the Lord —
she shines my shoes
with a biscuit


Ferris Gilli can be contacted at at comcast dot net

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"Don't Turn Loose" copyright ©2006 by Ferris Gilli
       "Heat" copyright © 2000 - 2006 by Ferris Gilli  
"For the Lord" copyright © 2000 - 2006 by Ferris Gilli
The story and poems appear here with thanks to Ferris Gilli, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2004 - 2006