(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
Mother was a crackerjack storyteller. I’ve seen her hold audiences of a thousand listeners in the palm of her hand, rapt, while she told stories of her family and her upbringing in Clark County, Alabama.
They say timing is everything in storytelling, and Mother’s was impeccable. As one National Public Radio host once noted, “Her pauses were almost as long as her stories.” She said she got her storytelling talents from her father, James Wilson Tucker, who was a master tale teller. Her father smoked a pipe while he told stories to family and friends on their long, rambling front porch. He would pause in his storytelling to take a draw on the pipe. It may have been his pauses that influenced Mother’s own cadence in her storytelling.
Mother also had a tendency to drift from one story into another during her telling. She might start a tale about her colorful aunt, Bettie Forster, and before we knew it, Mother had wandered off to another story about aprons or sweat bees or how she disliked housekeeping. Eventually, she would find herself back on track to the story she began with.
In all of Mother’s years of storytelling, I saw her stumble only once. She was deep into a story about a devastating fire at an antebellum mansion in South Alabama. The house was situated on the river, and there was no fire department, so the men of the community formed a bucket brigade, drawing water from the river to hand along from man to man to douse the burning structure. The audience was enthralled, hanging on her every word as the tale unfolded.
And then she said it. “The men were all passing water,” she said as the story progressed. When she realized what she’d said, I watched her take one of her famous pauses, but, knowing her so well, I saw something more. She was about to burst out laughing at her own impropriety. The pause was unusually long as she struggled to recover. And she did, but after the event was over, she and I could hardly wait to laugh hysterically about all those men “passing water.”
I miss much about being with my mother, but her sense of humor is far up the list of the reasons I loved her so.
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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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