Isaiah 6:8

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Solemn Goodbye to a Great Storyteller

In my 57 years I have only met one other person like Kathryn Tucker Windham and I have been fortunate to hear her weave stories many times in my life. I have always wanted to be a story teller just like her. She was amazing. My children grew up hearing her Ghost tales and loved them. We even planned a vacation or two around some of them. When my own daughter, Kathryn(and yes she was named after the great writer) went to Montevallo to attend college it was funny that she ended up in Main Hall where one of Ms. Tucker Windham’s legendary ghosts dwelled. But this post is not about me…it is about one of the greatest storytellers to have ever lived, Kathryn Tucker Windham.  She began her career as a journalist and historian but it was her later-in-life storytelling career turned her into an Alabama legend and my biggest role model. It distressed me when I found out this morning that she died on Sunday. She was 93. The ghost stories she wrote came from her home that she shared with a ghost named Jeffrey. She always said that he was a “spirit that in the late 1950s made his presence known and launched her on a storied path.” She and folklore teacher Margaret Gillis Figh published "13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey" in 1969. It was the first of a number of books about Southern ghosts, and it led to her acclaimed career as a storyteller on stages around the country. She was a legend," "She was certainly the premiere storyteller in Alabama, and maybe one of the premiere storytellers in the South ... And, of course, she was a bang-up good journalist." As a 12-year-old, Mrs. Windham wrote movie reviews for The Thomasville Times, and she worked as a writer and photographer for the Alabama Journal and The Birmingham News after graduating from Huntingdon College in 1939. Mrs. Windham was a single mother freelancing for the Selma Times Journal when Jeffrey came into her life. Thousands of Alabama schoolchildren grew up reading her books, bringing her fame and some degree of fortune. Her son once quipped that Jeffrey put him and his siblings through college. The ghost stories were only the beginning. Eventually, Mrs. Windham became known for telling stories about the people and places of the Alabama she knew so well. "My early stories were all ghost stories because I knew a lot of them and had collected a lot of them," Mrs. Windham said once. "But I began to realize that what we needed to be telling are stories about our own families, about people we know and love and care about. That's how you keep the memories alive. You don't forget the people you love when you tell stories about them and tell new generations these stories about them." Her storytelling career took her many times to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tenn. She was a regular contributor to National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," and she was the subject of Norton Dill's 2004 documentary, "Kathryn: The Story of a Teller." Mrs. Windham's many honors include the Alabama State Council on the Arts' Alabama Living Legacy Award and induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor. Novelist Harper Lee, one of Mrs. Windham's best friends, nominated her for the latter. (I need to plug in here…that I personally have an autographed copy of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I taught her great-niece one year in English and that was my prize. I cherish this copy.) Mrs. Windham also became a civil rights figure in Selma, hosting "comb singings" that had people from all walks of life playing the comb as a kazoo-like instrument. It was her way of trying to fight against racism in Selma, she said. "All the Lord asked of us is that we love God and love each other, and we've messed up those two simple commandments," Mrs. Windham said last year. "One night in the middle of the night, I woke up and thought, 'It's music that brings people together.' I thought about when I played the combs when I was a child. Everybody can play the combs." See, my musical family knew what she was talking about. I grew up with great stories told by my grandparents, uncles and aunts, and parents. I am one of the fortunate ones…I remember many of the tales and love to share them….you might even find one of two hidden in my blog. Who knows? Tearfully I say goodbye to one of the greatest Southern storytellers/writers I have ever met. She was a grand lady.

1 comment:

Sweet Tea said...

I can't imagine living in a house with a ghost - it gives me the shivers! What a rich legacy of books she lives behind. She will live on in her books.