Sunday, June 12, 2011

Passing of Our National Treasure

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)


Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute to such a gracious lady who was certainly one of Selma's treasures. You captured her spirit in both the picture and prose.

Ellen said...

We have so many of her books and have enjoyed every one of them...truly a sad passing for Selma.

Jim Klenke said...

Sad day, I am sure she is still telling her stories to others right now.

Lynn said...

What a beautiful tribute, my friend! We were so blessed in Selma in so many ways, and I appreciate you so much! You have a wonderful talent for seeing the beauty in every day and in the most ordinary surroundings, and bringing it to my attention so that I may treasure it as well. You are so special and I am so glad to know you Janet. God bless you!
Love and Hugs,

Lois said...

A life well lived and a beautiful lady!

Rambling Round said...

Thanks so much for your comments about Kathryn Windham, and Lynn, I don't know what to say! I'm just doing what I enjoy. You are so very kind.

Kate said...

She definitely is a national treasure to be shared far beyond Selma, Alabama. Thank you for adding all the information.

Jacob said...

I'm sorry to admit that I have not heard of the lady but she sounds like a terrific person in every way. I think I shall have to check out some of her books!

I'm sure she is pleased by your words!

magiceye said...

may her soul rest in peace..

Jackie R. Walburn said...

Janet: A great, well-written tribute. I am saving her quote: "happiness, like a cloud of applauding angels, has accompanied me and urged me on."
We should all have that blessing and attitude. -- Jackie

Rambling Round said...

Many thanks, Jackie. I have several of her books, including "Twice Blessed," and this post is one that practically wrote itself if you know what I mean!

Rose said...

Oh, she sounds like someone wonderful to know...I checked our libary and they have a cookbook by her but not the two you mentioned.