More Stories from the Senior Memoir Writing Workshop

Today’s post is part of a series written in conjunction with the Senior Memoir Writing Workshops taught earlier this year by writing coach and workshop leader Bonny C. Millard. Knoxville Writers’ Guild sponsored the workshops, funded with a grant by the East Tennessee Foundation.  


Mrs. Zelma

By Cathy Whitehead


I lament her life, which spoke of poverty, though she never knew my sorrow. Upon our first meeting, she appeared as cold, hard and bitter. Certainly not one to weep, tears glistened on her cheeks in her four-room cement block home. I can only sum her life: “The poor ye shall always have with you.”

This strange woman and her husband were brought to my attention through stories related by neighbors. Walking, they made their way up the hills, around the curves and dips of the asphalt road in our small railroad community. On their backs were brooms of straw made by the husband. One could see the blindness that covered his sightless eyes by the way he was led by his wife. With an impatient jerk, she would lead him to each door, hoping to add a few dollars to their modest income.

Years passed and little was seen of the old couple. One day we heard the old man had died. Food was to be brought for the remaining family to the neighbor’s house across the road. As I prepared a dish for the widow and son, I thought that it would be interesting to meet this strange woman. My heart yet lamented for her poverty and sorrow.

Upon entering the house with my food, my eyes scanned the room. I felt stricken and at a loss for words as I looked upon the strange lady in the kitchen. She did not speak. Thin dull brown hair fell limply to her shoulders, and she looked tall and manly in her brown twill pantsuit.

At my introduction, she simply nodded. I would have thought of her as timid and shy had it not been for the greenish brown eyes that glared at me in a crossed state. Was it bitterness that caused her to stare at me so? Were the stories of rejection true because of their poverty?

After returning home, I thought of the widow from time to time. Would the son take care of her needs or the faithful neighbor check on her? I lamented her fate and at last decided I should visit.

Somewhat hesitant, I knocked at her door, the picture still in my mind of our first meeting. A soft voice called faintly, “Come in.”

A bare bulb hung from the ceiling in the dim living room. Two narrow dirty windows filtered the sunshine, and warmth was given from a small black cast iron heater. She sat there in the frayed brown recliner gently stroking a small kitten.

Her voice was soft and warm with thanks that I had come, and her lips trembled with a kind smile. There was no cold stare from the greenish brown eyes that so needed to be straighten. This was all quite different from our first meeting.

The room felt warm, and I soon recognized the heady scent that filled the air. A calico cat brushed my leg. Other furry coats of yellow walked across the worn linoleum. Black and gray stripped cats lay sleeping at her feet. These were her friends.

Offering me a straight back chair, I noticed the bottle of lotion on the small table beside her chair. Her hands were old and frail but soft. How strange I felt. Was I wrong to have feared her so? In the small room I began to have a new awareness of this strange woman. I found that within everyone lies a desire to be loved. My greatest lament now would be that I had not done more.


Cathy Whitehead is a great cook from Knoxville and an author in the making. She has written short articles that have been published in newspapers and Christian publications. She also writes children’s stories. Observing people, nature and life inspires her writing. Her email is

Victoria Raschke

Victoria Raschke writes books that start with questions like “what if you didn’t find out you were the chosen one until you were in your forties?” When she isn’t holed up in her favorite coffee house to write, she can be found at the nearest farmers’ market checking out the weird vegetables or at her home where she lives with a changing number of cats and her family who supports both her writing and her culinary experimentation — for the most part. Her first book, Who by Water, was published in 2017. Voices of the Dead Series Who by Water Our Lady of the Various Sorrows Like  a Pale Moon Strange as Angels Voices of the Dead Omnibus Edition (includes short "A Wand Needs a Witch") Renegade Tea Cookbook (2021)