Celebrating Windham’s special dayPublished 10:08pm Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Although the death of Kathryn Windham is painfully new, memories of her bountiful life remain and will continue to return so long as her books are read, her tales recalled and her smile remembered. She was long a resident of Selma – and probably its greatest supporter. Thomasville was her hometown, and on a special day, the town reclaimed her.
On the current directional map of Alabama, Thomasville is located along Highway 5 … or perhaps it’s 43. As in many rural small towns, both sides of the well-paved roads are lined with new strip malls, a few fast-food places and service stations combined with food marts. At intervals directional signs point to specific locations, such as churches, the post office, a bank and municipal buildings.
A left turn from the highway, a drive through a short wooded stretch, and the real town of Thomasville opens its hospitable arms to visitors. There, in block after block, lies the town treasured by Kathryn Tucker Windham, who put its people, its homes, its life into her writing and the tales she told.
There, under branches of ancient trees, in yards colorful with beds filled with bright blossoms of a late southern spring, stretch the wide porches of homes where she sat with family and neighbors, listening to their stories that someday would be her gift to the world.
On Sunday mornings and Wednesday prayer meeting evenings, the music of “old-time” hymns still drifts through open church windows and into the neighboring houses of those quiet small town blocks. Passersby find themselves humming a phrase or two of “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” or “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks” or perhaps “I Love to Tell The Story.”
These are the hymns that Kathryn Tucker Windham chose for the service at Thomasville’s United Methodist Church on that June day, where the flowers in the sanctuary were placed “In loving honor and celebration of the wonderful life and witness of Kathryn Tucker Windham by the Selma-Dallas County Public Library.”
The Alabama celebration in honor of her 85th birthday began on May 31 with a walking tour of Thomasville guided by her through the familiar streets of her hometown. That evening was one of Southern music, art, food and storytelling with time set aside for Windham to autograph her books.
The Sunday morning church service was followed by an old time “Dinner on the Grounds,” that was served on tables in the hospitality room of the church. And the variety of baked meats and fried chicken, casserole dishes, salads, home baked breads and desserts had no equal, just as Kathryn would have had it.
Following the dinner, a birthday party and opening ceremony were held at Alabama Southern Community College, where the Kathryn Tucker Windham Museum was dedicated. The museum is a project also of the Alabama Center for Literary Arts, the Clarke County Museum and the Regional Arts Museum of Southwest Alabama.
Present were fellow writers and artists, friends old and new, family and politicians of note, who were greeted in the lobby by a life size figure of Kathryn, created by her friend and neighbor Charlie Lucas, known as “The Tin Man.”. Thomasville Mayor Sheldon Day presented a resolution in her honor; Brent Davis of the University of Alabama spoke of her broadcasts with National Public Radio; state Senator Pat Lindsay and state Representative Thomas Jackson brought proclamations from both houses of the Legislature. Nancy Anderson of Auburn University at Montgomery recalled her introduction to “my friend Kathryn,” and Linda Vice of the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission, who assisted in planning and putting the exhibit in place, praised her “70 years of photography and 20 books, from which this exhibit is drawn.”
Windham’s birthday, June 3, is now officially named Kathryn Tucker Windham Day in her hometown and in the state. The honoree’s response to these and to all the other honors, praises and plaudits heaped upon her was her usual modest “Thank You!”
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Sunday celebration was the mingling of family members and Selma neighbors with old friends from Windham’s years as a journalist with several state newspapers including The Selma Times-Journal and the Montgomery Advertiser.
This Sunday we will gather in farewell to our friend Kathryn at Church Street United Methodist Church. From there we will “meet and greet” at the Performing Arts Center, where Kathryn’s daughter Kitti Windham directed so many happy hours of entertainment for this Black Belt area. It was there at the ceremony naming the theatre for Kitti that the friends and neighbors of the Windham family last gathered in a farewell.
There will be tears and laughter Sunday as blessed memories of Kathryn Windham’s years of friendship and accomplishments are recalled. But, as journalists at times are prone to write: “A very good time will be had by all!”