Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Nesting

On the mystery of mothering

This spring, thinning my garden beds overfull with hellebores, the early- and long-blooming Lenten rose, I accidently exposed a rabbit’s nest. It was the first I’d ever seen. I gently pulled back the top layer of gray fluff — then the scream. A humanlike scream of innermost fear.

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The Sucker

You can learn a lot from a poker game

I was 18 and about to be the first Vargo to leave Detroit for any reason other than war, thanks to a student loan, a Pell grant, and the gift of an academic probation program that gave kids like me one semester to prove our scholarly worth or go back to wherever it was we came from. I felt so smart.

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Must Not Love Dogs

On love and uncomfortable nostalgia

When I tell people I don’t want a dog, they inevitably look at me like I’m a psychopath. I get it. Anti-dog people are nuts. They’re curmudgeons who probably also hate baby smiles, freshly baked cookies, and Betty White. I tell these folks it’s because I’m just too lazy to have a dog, but that’s a lie. It’s because I had the perfect dog once, and she was the one.

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Sweet Songs Never Last Too Long

A fan remembers 40 years of following John Prine

The first time I saw John Prine in concert, it was hard to know what to make of him. As a college student at the University of Kentucky in the late 1970s, a music fan since childhood, I was already a veteran of many concerts, spanning rock to folk to R&B to jazz to church music. But who had ever seen anything like this guy? 

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Spinning through Knoxville

On seeing Knoxville’s past and present

I watch the TikTok videos of a man in Knoxville. He roller skates — backwards — across Market Square plaza, inside and outside the Convention Center, and down Volunteer Landing that snakes parallel to the Tennessee River. He skates down the brightly graffitied Strong Street alley. Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me” plays as he skims past the images and murals on the alley walls. The pictures swirl into swaths of neon colors like a psychedelic dream.

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Winnowing

The gift of letting go

The challenge wasn’t just the spice drawer with the unopened 30-year-old jar of coriander and the multitude of little packets of red pepper delivered with more than a decade of pizzas. Not just the UCLA T-shirt I bought in 2007 on my son’s college tour. Not the second-best stew pot. No, when I got right down to the bone, it was the last tangible relics of my father I had trouble letting go.

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