(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
It must have gotten tiresome.
For all our growing up years, my mother slept on the sofa by the kitchen the night before Thanksgiving. That way she could get up periodically and “see to the turkey,” basting and such as needed doing.
Sometime around 1990, Mother was taken by a brilliant notion. Sometime that September at a family get-together, she announced, “For Thanksgiving I have rented a beach house at Fort Morgan for the week. Anybody who wants to come down for any length of time is welcome to do so.”
My brother and sister and I were surprised. What? No more gathering of the family at Mama’s long pine table? No more setting up card tables for the children and overflow guests who inevitably appeared? (For years those guests included the two young men sent to Selma by the Mormon Church that year in an always-bankrupt attempt to convert somebody. Anybody. “They look so thin and hungry riding those bicycles all over town,” was Mama’s explanation.)
We were puzzled, caught off guard, but we recovered quickly. After all, it was the beach. It was a new adventure. It was still a family assemblage, and that’s what mattered.
That very first year at the beach, everyone adapted quite well. A huge roomy house right there on the shores at Ft. Morgan was, after all, something to be really thankful for. And no turkey on earth could hold a candle to the pot of boiling shrimp---huge tasty Reds---that became our traditional Thanksgiving meal.
In the early years of the new tradition, Mother would drive down from Selma with my sister Kitti on Monday to set up the house for other arrivals later in the week. The rest of us would go down as soon as possible, hoarding vacation days from work to stretch out the family time at a place that is near perfect in November. The summer tourists were gone, the autumn sky was Mediterranean blue and, no matter how cold, the Gulf insisted we wade in deeper and deeper until we were drenched by the waves.
In 2005, my sister died just weeks before Thanksgiving. My mother, by then in her 80s, acknowledged her failing eyesight prevented the long drive alone to the beach. But her indomitable spirit insisted on continuing the tradition.
“Kitti would want us to go.” That’s all she said.
It was impossible to hurdle the absence of my sister, her gypsy spirit and laughter, her propensity for surprise---magically producing harmonicas, tambourines and kazoos for impromptu family performances.
But every Thanksgiving until Mother’s death, our “adopted” family member, her next door neighbor, Charlie Lucas, would drive with her down on Monday to set up the house.
My mother, deeply rooted in her Methodist upbringing, would call all in attendance to gather around the Thanksgiving table. We would hold hands. Mother would say a short and beautiful blessing and make her annual attempt to have each of us say a word of personal thanks. It would begin well.
“I’m thankful for each family member and for our friends gathered here today,” I would say.
“I give thanks for recovery from the illnesses this family has suffered,” my sister-in-law would say, her words of thanks precious, for there had been many.
“Thank you, God, for these people who have taken me in to be part of their loving family,” was Charlie’s prayer.
But, when it came his turn, the mood of the deeply touching sentiments would be dispelled by my wonderfully irreverent brother. “Roll Tide!” he’d say, and we’d all collapse into the great gift of laugher, and it was another Thanksgiving well spent.
In her later years as she grew more comfortable on stage, Mother, on occasion, would sing. She always prefaced her tunes by saying that her children had begged her not to sing, but she was going to anyway. That, of course, delighted her audience.
Mother often sang a song her daddy had taught her when she was a child. Her daddy, James Wilson Tucker, was baldheaded. He told a young Kathryn that he believed the mosquitoes lay in wait for him to fall asleep at night. Then they would all gather around his bed and sing “The Mosquito Song.” It went like this:
Buzz, buzz, buzz
There’s someone in this bed.
Buzz, buzz, buzz
No hair upon his head.
Buzz, buzz, buzz
We’ll paint old baldhead red.
There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!
My daddy, Amasa Benjamin Windham, was a bit of a troubadour himself. He died when I was three, so I have only hazy memories of him. He was a journalist, an artist, a playwright, a philatelist, a songster and much more. After his death, Mother placed importance on keeping his memory not only alive but also lively. That remembrance included periodic singings of songs Daddy liked. They weren’t all politically correct, but it was an era of incorrectness before our faults were acknowledged.
Daddy had lots of songs he loved to sing, and this was one of my favorites:
Oh, Mamie, don’t you feel a-shame-y?
Tell me, are there any more at home like you?
Reputation shady, but a perfect lady
A beginner but a winner, Mamie.
Mamie took some notions
In a dry goods store.
Put ‘em in her pocket
And headed for the door.
But the old floorwalker
Made her take them back.
Mamie was a kleptomane-y, kleptomaniac.
(Chorus: Oh, Mamie, don’t you feel a-shame-y….)
Mamie took the measles.
Mamie took the bed.
Mamie took the doctor,
And this is what he said:
“Take a little something ‘til you’re feeling fine.”
Mamie had been taking something, something all the time!
Daddy had dozens of these ditties that he loved to sing around the house or driving around on Sunday afternoons. I wish I could recall more of them, but they’ve been lost to time and clouded memory. One that is not lost was a song he sang called “Down by the River.” It goes:
Down by the river,
I saw a figure,
Teeth knocked out
And her hair peroxided.
Even in the moonlight
She was cock-eyed-ed.
Lace from her petticoat
Blowing in the breezes,
Caused by the knocking
Of her knee-ses.
She had a wooden leg,
And she couldn’t walk,
But I love her just the same.
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"Some people are important to intellectuals, journalists, or politicians, but Kathryn Tucker Windham is probably the only person I know in Alabama who is important to everybody."
–Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Auburn University.
Ben Windham & Dilcy Windham Hilley
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