Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

Insights navigation:

[ Insights ]

RSS feed

Don Williams comments

Discovering oneself is often the hardest but most rewarding task
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   07/09/1999)

You could say Carolyn Cary Hall lost the world to gain her own soul. Or that she had an adventure filled with terror, triumph and grandeur. You could say she knew loneliness bordering on madness and moments of self-revelation, as she re-discovered her inner child.

You could call her 18 years on and off the road a journey to the heart of America. Or a spiritual quest. You could say these were years of growth and self-education, as she immersed herself in books on human nature and learned to write. You could characterize her journey as a flight from abusive and domineering men. Or simply say she took the long road home to reconciliations with family and friends. You could call it a shaggy dog tale, or define it as a tribute to Henry David Thoreaus famous advice: Simplify. Simplify.

How ever you defined her sojourn would be inadequate, because it would reduce 18 years of raw living on the backroads of America, to a storybook clich. Maybe that is whats required. After all, Halls story should be a book. It should be a movie. Its one of the best stories of the road Ive ever been around. I first heard part of it in 1982, when Hall was preparing to leave for a second trip out west, and I interviewed her for another paper. I remember her as a slender blonde with a big spirit and a dog she doted on.

Last month I heard from Hall again. She sent a document that, once I picked it up, I could not put down. It was an interview she had conducted with herself, question-and-answer style, and it brought me up to date regarding this gypsy from a former time.

Here is a brief summary of what she wrote.

In 1981, at the age of 41, Carolyn Hall cut the moorings. She exchanged the bitter dregs of a disastrous relationship with a millionaire for a fresh drink at lifes vineyard. She took Thoreaus advice to simplify her life, to look at herself and America from the outside in. She loaded up a cooler, a mattress, called her yellow collie-shep dog, Harmony, and, with $300 in her pocket--and $3,000 worth of jewels for security--struck out on the road.

Her safety net was snatched away less than a week later, when thieves ransacked her van in New Orleans. They stole her jewelry and left the remnants of her material possessions scattered across the parking lot of a cheap motel. Starting again in despair, Hall set off without a plan other than to see the majestic west that had served as the backdrop to cowboy movies she grew up watching on TV.

She literally tossed a coin time and again when deciding where to go next. Wherever she wound up, she usually found some work and made enough money to move on. She served as captain of a pontoon boat on an Arizona lake. She waitressed in the Grand Canyon, flagged traffic for a construction crew in Wyoming, washed dishes in Oregon, mowed grass in a cemetery, pumped gas, clerked at flea markets, worked on roofs, and more.

Hall was seldom far from danger. She writes of the night she awoke on a Gulf of Mexico beach to the sound of roughnecks in hotrods roaring round and round her van like Indians from a B-movie, while she huddled, terrified, inside. When a woman in Tucson expressed alarm that she was living alone in her van, at a time when rapes were up 50 percent in the city, Hall began avoiding cities in favor of small towns.

She knew quiet triumphs. The first campfire she built was a beacon of hope. She learned a lot about life around such fires--from gypsies, cowboys, earth mothers and artists. Storied and troubled people found it a relief to unburden themselves to this comely pilgrim passing through. When alone, she began remembering the story of her life. She recalled her childhood on an Ohio farm, with cold and aloof grandparents who raised her, while she pined for her natural mother who lived and worked just eight miles away.

While still a callow teen, she fell into a marriage with a man who brutalized her, and, following a divorce, another man who did likewise. She raised two daughters on her own. Then she met the millionaire, who gave her a kind of self-esteem, while plying her with drink, flying her around the country in private jets and festooning her with jewels. It was after he betrayed her that she made her break for a clean start.

How she came to terms with her past is too complex for the telling here. But somewhere along the way she learned forgiveness, compassion, self-reliance, and the grace of a God that she defines as Love. The recent death of her mother and others close to her has started the wheels of memory turning. Now, with a Colorado mountain cabin beckoning, Hall is ready to commit her story to paper. If she writes narrative as well as she conducts interviews with herself, this should be an astonishing manuscript. I look forward to reading it, and I wish her well.