It's a sad night in Selma, Alabama with the passing of our National Treasure, Kathryn Tucker Windham. She died today at age 93. The "Ghost Lady," as she was affectionately known, brought our town into the national spotlight for reasons other than Civil War and Civil Rights.
She weaved the stories of our ghosts and legends and folk remedies and religion and charmed the whole world. Beginning as a pioneering female police reporter in Montgomery, her writing later graced the lifestyle pages of The Selma Times-Journal, and she freelanced and authored books about ghosts all across the South. Other books featured southern and Alabama Black Belt culture, including "Alabama: One Big Front Porch" and "Twice Blessed."
I could list her many honors and other accomplishments, but she probably would want to be remembered most as a storyteller. Years ago, at a social occasion for business women, someone who didn't know her asked, "And what do you do?"
"I tell stories," she replied succinctly.
And she told her stories magically. I first heard her at the Calico Fort festival in Fort Deposit, way back when I was a college student. The children who surrounded her on the ground were, well, spellbound! She eventually became famous at the National Storytelling Festival up in Tennessee and was mistress of ceremonies at the Alabama Tale-Tellin' Festival here every October. Oh, how we'll miss her!
But, we will also miss her neighborliness and humble, humorous and generous spirit. Within two days of my husband and I moving to Selma more than three decades ago, Kathryn, who lived across the street, welcomed us with a home-baked cake. Even after her fame spread far and wide and after she was well along in years, she sometimes volunteered at the Visitor Information Center, and there were many times that I saw her out picking up litter on residential streets. Then every New Year's Day, she invited everybody to her home for black-eyed peas and cornbread for good luck. She stayed mostly in the kitchen, cooking cornbread and stirring peas all day long.
In the preface of "Twice Blessed," Kathryn reflects on her "greatest blessings" as being her "loving family and stimulating friends" and says that through her life, "happiness, like a cloud of applauding angels, has accompanied me and urged me on."
And I imagine that Heaven's angels are applauding her arrival tonight.
(Photo is from June 3, 2008 at Kathryn Windham's 90th birthday party)