Windham lives on through her stories

Published 9:28 pm Thursday, June 16, 2011

There are very few people my age that grew up in Alabama that don’t know the name Kathryn Tucker Windham.

Many of us knew her best for her book “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey.”

The book was often a source of joy and conflict for students at Patrician Academy throughout our elementary school years.

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There were only two copies, and, needless to say, competition was fierce. Those two copies often turned a quiet library into a fourth-grade free for all if they were on the shelf during our Friday afternoon visits.

Our teacher eventually bought a copy and read the stories on rainy days when we could not go outside for recess and the fighting subsided.

We hung on every word because a majority of the stories were in locations we passed through on numerous occasions.
We always looked forward to football road trips to Pickens County so we could stop by the courthouse. As a family, we even took a few Sunday afternoon trips to Gaineswood.

Touring the mansion was great, but we were most interested in the ghost stories Mrs. Windham had written.

Mrs. Tucker’s writings made it all the way to our dinner table. I bought my mother an autographed copy of “Treasured Alabama Recipes.” The book was originally purchased as a collector’s item because of the signature attained at one of her appearances in Marion, but we have found ourselves turning the pages on many occasions to use a barbecue sauce and cornbread recipe. I’ve even made a little wine here and there guided by the book’s instructions.

I feel very fortunate to have met Mrs. Windham for the first time when she was at her best. I attended the 2004 Okra Festival in Lowndes County as a reporter for The Greenville Advocate and she told a number of tales that had us hanging on every word.

I was able to interview her and reveal that I was born in Grove Hill and had deep Clarke County roots. For the rest of the day, that became my name, Clarke County.

I’ll never forget how she gave me a big, sweeping wave with her right hand as I was leaving and said “See ya’ later Clarke County!” It felt great to find something in common with a writer that brought me so much joy in school and at the dinner table.

Following the event, I wrote a column discussing Mrs. Windham’s craft and the importance of storytelling. Not long after that, I arrived at work to find a Jeffrey card on my desk thanking me for the kind words. It remains in a glass case and is one of my most treasured items.

Those who met her, and those who enjoyed her stories will never forget her ability to take us places we never imagined through her stories. Mrs. Windham is no longer with us in body, but she will always be present in spirit and through her stories.

She was a special person that we will never forget.