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.