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.

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