(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
More than five years after her death, people are still interested in learning about my mother. I believe that would make her happy.
Recently, a young graduate student called to ask me if she could interview me about Kathryn Tucker Windham. I agreed, of course, and the nice young woman opened with this question: “What do you know about your mother?” Somewhat taken aback, I wondered if Mother had some secret life of which I knew nothing. A double agent perhaps? A breeder of Chihuahuas? Lover to “Big Jim” Folsom??
All those possibilities seemed ridiculous, so I told her I knew a lot about my mother. I told her I knew everything most people knew and more. I told her that one of the most romantic things I knew about my mother was how she met my father.
My father, Amasa Benjamin Windham, was born in Gordo, Alabama, in 1905, and died at 50 when I was three, so I have only a hazy memory of him. I know a great deal about him though because he kept extensive scrapbooks from the time he was at Howard College (now Samford University) to the time of his death in 1956. He was a magnificent artist, so these are no ordinary keepsakes. The scrapbooks are made in huge, leather-bound county ledgers and include pages of his original artwork, along with photographs and clippings.
My father was also a prolific playwright, an actor and a journalist. He worked as a features writer for the Birmingham Age-Herald before he joined the Navy during World War II. He served as Lieutenant Commander and headed a military government unit on Okinawa.
While my father was in the Navy, my mother became a reporter for The Birmingham News. Mother said when she started work there, all she heard was, “Amasa this,” and “Amasa that,” and “Oh, won’t we be glad when Amasa gets home.” He was widely adored by friends and co-workers, I understand. Mother said she was sick to death of hearing about Amasa.
One afternoon while she was working away at her typewriter, the elevator doors opened, and out stepped a dashing man in full white Navy regalia. Everyone in the newsroom jumped up and went running to greet Amasa, who had finally come home from the war. My mother continued typing while everybody else fawned over him. Later he stopped by her desk to introduce himself. “You must be Kathryn. I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said. “My friends and I are going out to celebrate after work. Would you like to come with us?”
“I wouldn’t be the least bit interested,” my mother said, barely looking up from her typewriter.
My daddy joined the staff of The Birmingham News upon his return. One day he sent a copy boy over to deliver a note to my mother. It read: “Would you be the least bit interested in joining me for dinner tonight?”
Three months later they were married.
Soon they moved to Selma, had a family of three young children, and then my daddy died. Mother and Daddy had been married ten short years. He was on the road a lot covering stories for a variety of publications during those ten years, so I have lots of correspondence between Mother and Daddy.
The letters are lively, full of talk about politics and family friends and us children. All of them have an underlying sense of longing to be together. I suppose that’s why Mama never remarried, never even went out with anyone else after my father’s death. It is also why she often told young engaged couples to go ahead and marry. She knew all too well the familiar saying that time is a thief.
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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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