(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blog is written by her daughter, Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
Though my family was never wealthy, Mother was rich in curiosity about all manner of things. And though she was not much of a collector, certain collectibles did capture her fancy. One such thing was insulators.
Now if you don’t know about insulators, it’s because we don’t see them much anymore. They were originally designed to keep telegraph and telephone wires insulated from the wooden poles that held them high in the air. Yes---those glass things atop telephone poles. Those are insulators.
Sometime in the late 1960s, Mother took an interest in collecting insulators. She didn’t comb antique stores for the beauties. She sought them out along train tracks out in the country. I don’t know how she knew where to find insulators, but they were often lying on the ground alongside the rails. Maybe the impacts of trains shook them loose and caused them to fall to the ground like glass fruit.
Insulators are things of beauty. On our Sunday afternoon walks along the tracks, we’d find an array of shapes and dazzling colors---clear, light green, aqua, amber, deep purple, light purple and sometimes even brown porcelain insulators. The shapes, too, come in many variations with petticoats, drip points, wire grooves and skirt styles. We carried a crocker sack to haul the bounty, and we’d walk until we were tired or until the bag got almost too heavy to carry.
We collected so many insulators that the windowsills at our house were soon filled, so Mother took to storing them in full-size garbage cans in the garage. The collection was not meant to serve any specific purpose; the hunt-and-find simply gave Mother pleasure.
Her obsession with insulators did not go unnoticed by the neighbors.
“Kathryn, what in the world are you going to do with all those insulators?” one neighbor asked after a particularly good haul.
Without missing a beat, my mother said, “I’m going to make hummingbird houses out of them.”
That seemed to satisfy the neighbor, and Mother went right on collecting.
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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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