Tuesday, March 25, 2008


So the guy came out Saturday to look at the furnace, declared that the blower motor had burned out, and we'd have to wait until Monday to get a new one--it being Easter weekend and all. And that will be one finger and three toes for the good news.

Fortunately, this being the South, it wasn't miserably cold on Easter. Though we woke up to 55 degree temps in the house Sunday morning. By keeping a fire going in the traditional wood burning fireplace in the great room all day and having 17 people huddled in front of it drinking hot chocolate, we managed to get it to about 70 degrees. Warmer than we keep the thermostat.

We hid eggs, ate too much, including the cutest cake shaped like a lamb. It was red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, so looked just like lamb brains and innards when we cut into it. It inspired many gross comments, but tasted great!

So, while all the chaos was going on at our house, our cat, Dusty Cat, disappeared. He tends to do that when we have kids over (we don't have any of our own) or my parent's dog, Leroy, the killer shitz zu, visits, because he barks at Dusty. We couldn't find him Sunday night when we went to bed and usually he senses when everyone leaves and hurries home, but not always. So we weren't really worried. But yesterday it was cold outside and windy and he still didn't reappear. And we did begin to worry.

Meanwhile, a different guy from the heating and air company came to fix the blower motor and discovered that it was fine. The circuit board had actually burned up==he showed it to me. He managed to get the heat on, which the guy on Saturday should have been able to do, he said. But had to go back to the shop for the right part. So late yesterday afternoon, after shelling out the rest of my fingers, 2 arms and 3 legs (I had to get one of Chris's) we got heat. Just in time for sub-freezing temps last night! Yippy!

So last night as we were getting ready for bed, Chris tiptoed out in his jammies, bathrobe and stocking cap (he's got a shaved head) and heard Dusty meowing, faintly. Chris called me out and with flashlights we looked all around, listening to him cry, but he wasn't getting any closer.

Chris finally managed to catch Dusty's eyes in his flashlight--he was trapped in the crawlspace of our neighbors' house! They are adding a master bedroom to the front of their house, which faces the back of our house sort of catty-cornered. Their house is at the back of their 2-acre lot, across a small pond from us. So, it's a long way from our fence to their house. And because they aren't moved into the new bedroom yet, they couldn't hear Dusty crying.

We wandered over, me in my jammies and a coat, just to confirm that's where he was, and sure enough, we saw him looking out at us. But the door to their crawl space is right under their current bedroom window and we were afraid they'd shoot first and ask questions later if they heard people breaking into the crawl space at midnight. So, we walked back home and called the neighbors--all their lights were out, so it looked like they weren't up. Fortunately we know them very well.

Don met us at the crawl space door in his jammies and bathrobe and we got Dusty out of the crawl space. Don said Dusty had to have been in there since shortly after lunchtime on Sunday. That's when Don had noticed the door open and closed it. I swear Dusty had lost weight. He seemed lighter weight when I picked him up, which wasn't until we got to back to our house. He raced ahead of us, looking back every now and then to be sure we were coming. Soon as we opened the front door, he ran to his food and yowled for chow. Poor little guy.

This morning he was ready to go out again, but I couldn't do it. It's only 30 degrees here this morning and I didn't want to worry about him again!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter!

Well, I'm a day late, but the sentiment is sincere. We had a really nice Easter, which was a surprise given that we had no heat and 17 people at our house for Easter dinner!

My parents arrived Friday to spend the weekend. Friday night after dinner, we were playing cards and started smelling something like electrical burning. It was in what we call the red room (formerly a garage, now an office/den). We wandered all around the room, sniffing and feeling outlets to see if they were hot. The electrical box is out there, it wasn't hot either. We couldn't find anything. We went back to playing cards and the smell got worse. We all got up and tried the sniff and search again. Still nothing. By the time it got to be bedtime, the smell was not as strong, so we didn't worry too much about it.

Saturday morning I woke up cold. That doesn't often happen. We have a programmable thermostat set for the temp to go up in the mornings. I pulled on my big fuzzy robe and went to look at the thermostat. It said the temp was 59 degrees in the house and the heat wasn't on. Chris was already up, but he had both his laptop and one of our cats in his lap, so he hadn't noticed that it was cold in the house.

So, here we are, Easter weekend, 17 people coming for dinner on Sunday, my parents spending the weekend with us, and no heat. I made coffee while Chris checked on the thermostat (Maybe it was the batteries. Nope, not that.) and the furnace (The blower wasn't blowing.). And the coffee maker overflowed coffee-ground filled black sludge all over the kitchen counter. The day was just getting better and better.

About the time I got the mess cleaned up and a new pot on, Chris figured out he couldn't fix the furnace and started making phone calls. He actually found somebody who'd come out on the Saturday of Easter weekend without charging us an additional arm and leg (on top of the regular arm and leg for a service call). Turns out this was because he didn't know what he was doing!

We have heat now, but had to give up all of our limbs to get it! More on the saga tomorrow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Last one on KTW, I promise!

Our Selma, Alabama, tour picks up at the library.

I swear, this will be my last post on this. It was just such a great weekend I couldn’t resist reliving it!

We didn’t get to see the Kathryn Tucker Windham Conference Room at the Selma Public Library, a meeting was in progress. But we didn’t need to see inside the room named for Miz Windham to recognize her influence. First, every person we saw in the beautiful, well-appointed, book-filled library knew who she was the second we walked through the door. Second, paintings and photographs of her fill the space. Third, she knew every inch of building, from the offices to the children’s room. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donated money for computers for the library, she told us. And even visited Selma to present the money. They stayed at the St. James Hotel, an old hotel recently renovated, according to Miz Windham. Overlooking the river, the hotel has balconies and ironwork, which make it look like something from New Orleans.

After the library we took a quick driving tour of the rest of Selma—both the good parts and the not-so-good parts. Miz Windham is obviously interested in all things about her town, including architecture. We saw a lovely section of beautifully restored 19th century homes and an area where gentrification is coming more slowly, but where the frame houses, many with gingerbread trim, often have stars carved in the eaves or over the doors. She’s tried as long as she’s lived in Selma to find out what the stars mean or who added them to the trim work, but she still doesn’t know and says most people don’t even seem to notice them. Daddy was driving too fast for me to get pictures of any stars. By this time he was becoming worried that we wouldn’t get Miz Windham to Huntsville in time for dinner at the church and we’d be barred from town for life for making her late.

Charlie Lucas, a folk artist who does a lot of metal sculpture is her neighbor. He wasn’t home, but she said he wouldn’t mind if we looked through his backyard, which is filled with sculpture—a Trojan horse, an ironing board with mop-hair and a face, among other equally interesting things. I think he’d be great to have for a neighbor, but I live in a neighborhood where nobody much bothers anybody else about what they have in their yards. He probably wouldn’t be real popular in some of the newer subdivisions with covenants about how long your trashbin can stay by the street.

She has several pieces of his in her house, including a really cute camel made from railroad ties, a sculpture of a soldier going off to war—and because war can make you cry, he’s carrying a windshield wiper to wipe away the tears—it’s a fabulous piece, and a painting of Miz Windham dancing in a blue dress, looking joyous.

But finally it was time to start home. Fortunately we had a storyteller in our midst to keep the miles flying by. She tells about growing up in Thomasville, Alabama, a small town about 60 miles from Selma. She tells about Gee’s Bend, where the beautiful and unusual quilts that have been shown at the High Museum here in Atlanta, among other places around the country, were created. It’s a tiny black community that for decades was cut off from the rest of the world because of its location on a tiny piece of land in a bend of the Alabama River. The lack of a bridge or ferry service across the river made it an hour drive just to get to the county seat.

She then spent the weekend telling listeners in Huntsville some of the same things that she’d told us in the car. But it didn’t matter one bit. Like little children who want to hear the same story over and over, I could listen to her stories again and again. They make you laugh and think and remember and grateful to be alive.

Friday, March 07, 2008

“Who is she?”

Obviously after just a couple of days—though I’ve heard Miz Windham tell stories for years and read “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” as a kid (it was practically required reading in Alabama, where I grew up, filled with great, creepy stories)—I don’t know all about who she is. But she manages to give quite a bit of herself away in a short amount of time.

She’s a woman who’s lived through a lot—in her town and in her personal life—and yet she appears to have come through it thinking the best of people and demanding the best of herself.

We stopped at the Live Oak Cemetery after lunch. According to Miz Windham, Selma is the northernmost point where Live Oaks will grow. They are scattered throughout this beautiful cemetery that looks like it ought to be in Savannah or Charleston rather than an inland Alabama town. They’ve been burying folks in Live Oak since the early 1800s—back when they knew how to bury their dead. I’ve included a photo of one of the more spectacular monuments, for Drury Fair Jones, who was buried in 1878.

I had no idea Spanish moss grew on anything but Live Oaks, but the azaleas (which were not blooming this time of year) and the camellias (which were blooming beautifully, see the second photo) were dripping with the grey-green moss. I could have spent all day wandering around.

But we had other places to go. The Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the Bloody Sunday Civil Rights March, 43 years ago this week, was on our list of must-sees. The bridge is longer than we expected, with a “memorial” on the side outside of town. I put memorial in quotes, because it does little to honor the dignity of the marchers with its rundown, almost tacky, brick-set plaques. The bridge was actually named long before it became infamous for a Confederate general, who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and is buried in Selma. I like to think he’s rolling over in his grave at Live Oak.

Next up, the library, with its Kathryn Tucker Windham Conference Room, among other goodies. But that’ll have to wait until later.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kathryn Windham, from Selma, Alabama

At storytelling festivals that's the only way Miz Windham wants to be introduced: her name and where she's from. But I want to tell a little more about her, in case you don't know who she is. Because I got to spend much of last weekend with her and enjoyed every minute of it.

Sometimes when you meet someone you’ve admired, you find you don’t admire her as much anymore. Their humanity shows, with all of its warts and blemishes, leaving you feeling a little disappointed.

Kathryn Tucker Windham, a storyteller, writer and photographer from Selma, Alabama, who (whom?, I never know) I have admired for years, wasn't like that. I came away from the weekend not only not disappointed, but inspired to write more, tell stories more and find ways to be a better person. Pretty powerful stuff to pick up from a woman who will be 90 in June.

She was one of the featured storytellers at a storytelling festival in Huntsville, Ala. My parents and I were assigned the enviable task of driving from Huntsville to Selma (about 3.5 hours) to pick Miz Windham up on Friday. But this wouldn’t be a quick down-and-back trip. Miz Windham has lived in Selma for 53 years and is proud of her town. She wanted to show it off to a couple of first-time visitors. (My dad had been there before, but Mom and I never had.)

We were reluctant to leave her house—which is like the best kind of museum. A collection of interesting photos, some of her with famous folks from Alabama, some she’d taken; of paintings and other art people had given her (her neighbor is folk-artist Charlie Lucas); of the fake leg with the fake blood coming out the top that she talks about in her stories; of quilts from a quilter in Gees Bend, Alabama. But she assured us we’d have time for the tour after we got back from lunch—at the best barbeque place in the world.

While Hancock’s barbeque was good, I’m not sure it’s the best I’ve ever eaten. But it was obviously a favorite of Miz Windham’s. They all knew her in there. She told us a story (she told stories all day, making the tour and the drive home fly by) about how one week she’d had a newspaper reporter come interview her on Monday and she’d taken him to Hancock’s for lunch. On Tuesday she had a different reporter come, and she took him. On Wednesday a friend from her college (she went to Huntingdon) came, and she took him to lunch at Hancock’s. And on Thursday yet another reporter ate lunch with her at Hancock’s. The same new waitress served her and her male guests all four days. After lunch on Thursday, the owner, a woman Miz Windham knows, walked up to her, smiling. “The waitress just came back and said, ‘That woman’s been in here every day this week with a different man. Who is she?’”

More about who she is in the next couple of days.