(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blog is written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
If we hadn’t messed with the climate, this would be just the right time of year to make cornbread. Cornbread goes with all the seasonal foods---chili, soup, stews, collard greens, butter, sorghum syrup and so on.
I believe my mother made the best cornbread on the planet. She was adamant about the recipe too. Anyone who knew my mother knew her mantra was “no sugar in the cornbread.”
Mother had a running controversy with another storyteller on the west coast who insisted on sugaring her cornbread. The woman would taunt my mother with articles and recipes that praised sweet cornbread. To every correspondence from her friend, Mother would write on the back of a postcard, simply, “If you want cake, make a cake. Love, Kathryn”
Of course, Mother could whip up a batch of corn muffins without ever so much as glancing at a recipe. As she got older, I realized the best cornbread-maker in the universe might not be around forever, so I asked her to show me how to make it. And she did, while I watched and wrote down every step.
I still have to pull out that recipe when I want to bake a skillet of cornbread. The paper is grease-stained and growing limp from age and use. I suppose it’ll eventually turn to paste, but maybe by that time, someone else will want to know how to make proper cornbread, and they will write it down.
(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
Kathryn’s first grandchild was not born until Kathryn was 70.
David Wilson Windham came into the world as loved and eagerly-awaited as anyone could imagine. He was a precocious child, drinking in every detail around him and retaining more than most children his age.
One thing David was fixated on from the time he could reach for it was a necklace his grandmother wore. It was a perfect likeness of the artist’s rendering of our house ghost, Jeffrey. I found it in a little silver shop along a bridge in Florence, Italy, in the early ‘70s and brought it back as a gift for Mother. She wore it nearly all the time.
When Mother went from her Selma home to visit her new grandchild in Tuscaloosa, David would snuggle into her lap and play with the dangling Jeffrey charm. “Ghost,” my mother would say to him as he studied the piece. When David began to walk and talk, he would run to the door when his grandmother arrived and shout, “GHOST!” Thus, Mother became known as Ghost to David and later to her second grandson, Benjamin Douglas Hilley.
Both boys adored Ghost. Like most grandmothers, she indulged them. Unlike most grandmothers, she also introduced them to pleasures such as picnics in the cemetery. One seasonal activity the boys enjoyed was picking up buckeyes in front of the law office of Mother’s attorney, Ralph Hobbs.
Now Mother believed strongly in the power of buckeyes and often preached it during her storytelling sessions. Buckeyes, of course, are the brown nuts that emerge from the thick capsules that are the fruit of the buckeye tree. They’re smooth and generally about the size of large shooter marbles. Mother believed everyone should carry one for good luck. First, though, the owner must rub the buckeye on his nose to absorb oil from the skin. That way the buckeye knows to whom it belongs. She also told audiences that, if you carry a buckeye, you’ll never die drunk.
Mother carried several buckeyes in her purse at all times and dispensed them---with instructions---to whomever she deemed worthy. When the crop came in, she and her grandsons would pick up dozens of the nuts for future handouts. Mother kept the supply in an old laundry bag in the trunk of her car.
When my son, Ben, was old enough to recognize the makes of cars, he loved to point out the various types and colors. One day we were driving down the road, and he said, “Oh look, Mama! There’s a car just like Ghost’s!”
He watched as it passed by us, and said, mostly to himself, “I wonder if it has a trunk full of bucknoses.”
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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.
Dilcy Windham Hilley
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