A GREAT, SOUTHERN STORYTELLER ENDS A CHAPTER–KATHRYN TUCKER WINDHAM, SOUTHERN ORIGINAL

I had heard that my friend and a favorite, Southern storyteller, Kathryn Tucker Windham was gravely ill and so I paused a moment and chicken-scratched her a “Bless Your Heart” note and readied it to mail last Saturday night. My mother called the next day to say Mrs. Windham had passed away. I left the card in the basket by the door. Her obituary in the New York Times, which would have pleased but not surprised her, said she “wove a tapestry of Southern folklore, bucolic scenes, reminiscences, cherished recipes and ghost stories” in her many books and on National Public Radio. She wrote about characters and she was one. A great, “Southern Original.” She’d started her writing career at 12-years old offering her moving picture reviews for her uncle’s small town newspaper. She was still conjuring up stories this past year at 93. Her ghost stories, especially about her house’s own apparition, Jeffrey, were her biggest hits. They are engaging tales to read, but I’m sorry you only have her honeyed-drawl now on youtube. But, at least we have that.  Sample one and be prepared to slow down and savor her Alabama speech as if you were sipping a tall glass of sweet tea and she was weaving another story out on the porch. Mrs. Windham enjoyed the old-fashioned goofiness of playing tunes with a wax paper and a comb. She and I talked about doing a classy duet where she’d play her signature instrument and I’d play mine, pennies on a pie tin. The next time I do a parlor concert, I’ll play a bit of “I’ll Fly Away” in her memory and figure she and Jeffrey will be up there writing up a review for me to collect later. I mailed the card onto her this week even though I knew she had been placed in the handmade coffin she had a local woodworker build maybe ten years ago. In Kathryn Tucker Windham’s world the dead are not dead and the past is not past. Fly away to glory, you fun, dear, Southern Original.

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