(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham or Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
The word “genteel” may have come into the American vocabulary only after my grandmother was born.
Helen Tabb Tucker was the essence of classic Southern ladyhood. Mother once told me that her mother refused to say anything derogatory against another person. The most blistering verbal criticism she ever heard her mother utter about someone was, “I do not admire him.”
On some occasions, my grandmother’s soft charm could turn into childlike simplicity. Those rare occurrences stirred my grandfather’s impatience with his wife. As president of the local bank, it was not uncommon for him to bring impressive company to the house for dinner. Now dinner, as you well know if you knew my mother at all, was the noon meal of the day. The nighttime meal was supper.
One day my grandfather brought to dinner a man who had studied life in the Antarctic Peninsula. He told the story of the harrowing journey of two explorers who lost their bearings and were rescued only shortly before losing their lives. In the course of the story, the man said, “For days, these poor explorers had to live on ice cakes.”
“How perfectly awful,” my grandmother exclaimed. “Why, they must have nearly starved to death!”
Of course, the visitor was referring to icebergs, not edible cakes of any sort. My grandfather glared at my grandmother in a fashion that told her it would be best to sit quietly for the remainder of the meal.
Though my grandmother was widely respected for her purity of heart and spirit, when called upon to do so, she could make generous use of a zinger.
My grandfather died when my mother was in school at Huntingdon College in Montgomery. After his death, my grandmother opened a small insurance agency to support the family. She had dozens of loyal clients in that town of Thomasville, Alabama, but she also had to deal with a wide-ranging public, something that can try anyone’s patience.
One day when she was typing policies at her office, a scruffy, unkempt man came through the door and plopped down in the chair next to her. “May I help you, sir,” my grandmother said graciously.
“Yeah, you can,” said the man, crossing his arms over his tobacco-stained shirt. “I need some insurance, and I figured since you was a Tucker and I was a Tucker, we could work out a deal.”
My grandmother turned from her typewriter, lifted her chin, and said to the man, “Sir, the woods are full of Tuckers, and some of them are very common.”
I don’t know that the man had enough sense to catch her drift, but the encounter became a favorite family story, one that we still love to tell today.
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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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