Happy 90th, KTW

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 29, 2008

Southerners bask in their oral traditions.

Many of us prefer porches and tales of the old days in the shank of the evening to the blare of television sets and video games.

Even now, in the early 21st century, we hold dear those stories handed down from generation to generation.

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We craft new ones from more recent events to add to the encyclopedic knowledge of how we came to be, and who we are.

In the West African countries of Mali, Gambia, Senegal and Guinea, poets walk through the villages, telling the stories of the past in a rhythmic sing-song speaking/singing way. These poets also give villagers gossip and advice and tell tales.

They are called griots. They are revered in their villages because they carry the stories; the histories.

Selma has its own griot.

She is a teller of tales in the finest of oral traditions. She also is a wordsmith, who has mastered the written story.

Kathryn Tucker Windham.

She speaks to all of us of those things universal, even primal:

It was a warm day, and I had the car windows down as I drove along Alabama Highway 22 near Orrville. Recent rains had refreshed the pastures, and clusters of Queen Anne&8217;s Lace fringed the roadsides. There was almost no traffic, so I drove slowly, etching on my memory the beauty of an Alabama summer.

As I rounded a curve, I saw horses grazing in a lush pasture. I scanned the herd, hoping to see a grey mule. I like to stamp grey mules for good luck, a superstition from my childhood. There were no grey mules, but I stopped to photograph the peaceful scene: horses framed by a hand-hewn fence post and a wreath of barbed wire.

We share her with other regions inside and outside the state.

But KTW is our treasure.

This gem will celebrate her 90th birthday this weekend.

She will bring us together on the lawn of the Selma-Dallas Public Library on Sunday for an afternoon of blowing the old tunes on homemade kazoos.

We will celebrate the nine decades of KTW&8217;s life.

We will hear stories from her because she cannot help herself; she tells them because they are a part of her.

We will hear stories about her from friends and family and well-wishers.

And as we gather &8212; young and old, with families or friends or alone &8212; we will become the stuff of tales in the future.

For this celebration will be a history of sorts.

It will be forever etched in our collective memories.

Sunday will be the day we, the villagers, give back to our griot.

Happy birthday, Katherine Tucker Windham.

Thank you for your stories and for holding us together.

We love you.