The Kathryn Tucker Windham blog is written by her daughter, Dilcy Windham Hilley.
Mother attracted all manner of people from all walks of life. She knew farmers and fiddlers and fortunetellers. She had friends who were writers and wrestlers and rednecks. Small people and large people and people of questionable reputation---all those and more were Mother’s friends and acquaintances.
Of course, many of her associates were fans of her books and her storytelling. In the years she appeared at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee, adoring fans swarmed, and she made time to speak with every one of them. At her funeral, her minister spoke of how she ended every phone conversation with him by saying, “I love you, Fred.” He thought it was a term of endearment reserved only for him. He had no idea she ended nearly every phone conversation with that same expression of love. It’s small wonder that people adored my mother.
Famous people also were part of her collection of friends though she wasn’t always aware of their fame. When Jessica Lange was in Montgomery filming the box office hit Big Fish, one of Mother’s acquaintances there asked Jessica if she’d be interested in driving over to Selma to see Mother’s photography. With her own interest in photography and published books of her work, Miss Lange was delighted by the invitation.
The night before Jessica was to arrive, I spoke to Mother on the phone. She told me she was having company from Montgomery the next day. She told me it was someone working on a movie there, and she was coming with Mother’s friend. When I asked who it was, she said, “Oh I have it written down here somewhere. Let’s see…it’s a woman named Jessica Lange.”
Mother and Miss Lange had a fine visit at the small house with the long pine table, and they stayed in touch for years.
Being the daughter of a beloved Alabama author and storyteller had its advantages. I often got to accompany Mother on her visits with the famous and celebrated. One such occasion was a brunch given to honor the reclusive author, Harper Lee. Mother was invited to come and bring two or three friends with her to a private home in the tony Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook. Along with me, Mother chose to bring one of my peers who is a superb photographer. Now this photographer friend is talented with a camera but has never been accused of being bookish.
When we arrived, Mother introduced our friend to Miss Lee, and they exchanged pleasantries. Then to my astonishment, our friend said, “You know, I’m probably the only person in Alabama who’s never read your book.”
Miss Lee never miss a beat. She looked at him and said, “Well go buy one, son. It’ll be another quarter for me.”
Then there was the visit from Gay Talese, but that’s a story for another time.
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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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