(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blog is written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
One sweltering July Sunday in Selma, Alabama, my mother wore mink to church.
As a rule, the three young Windham children were vigilant about remembering our mother’s June birthday. But one year, we forgot.
On other birthdays, we’d worked in secret, weaving potholders or making elaborate drawings of battle scenes. But this June 2, school was letting out, band camp was about to begin, and the city pool was open. And we forgot my mother’s birthday.
Sometime in the early part of July, in a miraculous moment when my sister Kitti’s mind turned from boys in bathing suits to her family, she said to brother Ben and me, “Oh good Lord. We forgot Mother’s birthday!”
Guilt-stricken, we gathered our savings together and set out on a Saturday morning to make things right. At Woolworth’s.
After close inspection of Evening in Paris cologne and other exotic possibilities, Kitti selected the most perfect present in the universe---a pair of mink earrings. I guess they were real mink. The cardboard they were clipped to said MINK EARRINGS. We had just enough savings to purchase these high-end fluffs of elegance.
We wrapped them and presented them to Mother that night, apologizing for the oversight a month earlier. Mother appeared delighted, saying she could hardly wait to wear them to church the next day. And she did. She wore her hair short, and those furry muffs must have grabbed the attention of more than one fashion-conscious woman in the congregation. I doubt Mother cared one whit.
After Mother died and we were sorting through her house, I opened her top dresser drawer where she kept all things special. There, wrapped in a cotton handkerchief, were a pair of tattered, shedding mink earrings…worn to church one sweltering Sunday in Selma, Alabama.
(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
Like all good Southerners, I have this story to tell you, and all you have to do is listen. You don’t need to judge me, and you don’t need to figure out an explanation for it.
Last Sunday, I left my house to drive to the grocery store. I got in the car and pressed the radio button to listen to NPR. But instead of “This American Life,” which I expected to catch, I heard the sound effects of bats. Yes, bat wings beating. So I assumed I was listening to “Science Friday” instead, only it wasn’t Friday, and the bat wing sounds stopped and my mother’s voice came on the radio.
Mother was talking about fall nights and Southern ghost stories, and I was a little rattled. I looked at the audio monitor, and it was blank. No station was registering. I decided my son Ben must have put a CD of his grandmother telling stories in the car player, so I hit eject. It was not my mother’s CD. It was Leonard Cohen. The earth stopped revolving, and I couldn’t breathe.
Deeply puzzled by this time, I hit the audio control, and up came an ad on WJOX (which, I should add, I hurriedly switched to NPR). Some syndicated show was on my local station, and the earth began to revolve again.
As I shopped for groceries, I was haunted---some would say literally---by what had happened.
When I got home, I told my son about the experience. He tried to explain it away in technical terms, but nothing fit. Then he dared to ask me if I had been getting enough sleep! His car was in the shop, so he asked to use mine to run some errands.
Within 20 seconds, he called me. “Mom!” He said. “Are you playing a trick on me?” Yes, the bat wings, his grandmother’s voice, the blank audio monitor….
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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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