(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
Mother believed travel boosted the intellect. In my earliest memories, I recall being in a car and going somewhere we’d never been before.
My daddy died when Mother was 38, leaving her with three children under the age of nine to raise and conduct. That she was a single mother didn’t deter her in the least from traveling the country with us in tow. Because my brother Ben was a Civil War buff, I recall spending long hours tromping around battlefields. I didn’t mind so much because I could climb on the artillery or park myself in the grass and make clover necklaces. Sister Kitti, being older and far too sophisticated for such nonsense, would stay in the car and bury her disenchanted nose in a book.
One summer, Mother took us all to Europe on a freighter. It was the adventure of a lifetime, and travel to Europe in 1963 was not so commonplace as it is now. It was the summer before I started sixth grade, so I have memories of Naples and Pompeii and Ephesus. The summer before that, she took us to New York City. I was going through my temperance movement phase and refused to allow us to eat anywhere that served liquor. That eliminated quite a number of eateries in the city, so we took many meals at the Automat.
That NYC adventure was also the trip where Mother corralled us onto the wrong subway, and we ended up in Harlem. Now Harlem in 1962 was not the hip and happening place it is today. As a matter of fact, it was a rough and tumble neighborhood we had no business being in. When we exited the subway and Mother realized her mistake, she turned to us and hissed in no uncertain terms, “Don’t any one of you open your little Southern mouth.” We did not.
But one of my favorite traveling memories was a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida, where we collected dozens of magnificent shells that walked off the dresser and gathered at the door during the night. Yes, we didn’t check for hermit crabs. Sanibel also had the best Dairy Queen Dipped Cone I’d ever eaten in my life. I don’t know why it was the best. Maybe because we were at the beach, and it was hot.
Anyway, we went for Dipped Cones every day while we were there. Mother, who as a journalist was attracted by almost anything of the slightest interest, was engrossed by the dipping of the cone in chocolate.
“How can you hold that ice cream upside down to dip it without it falling into that pool of chocolate?” Mother asked the waitress at the walk-up counter. A woman far older than my mother, the waitress was pruney-faced from too much Florida sun and not a bit pleasant.
“I been dippin’ these cones for years, and I ain’t had a single one ever to fall out,” the Naugahyde waitress said, peering over her cat-eye glasses.
And then it happened. We watched in shock as the never-before-fallen-out soft serve ice cream plunged into that well of chocolate, splashing brown sweetness all over our server. She looked at Mother like she was the very Devil. We looked at Mother like she could jinx the very Devil.
“That’ll be a dime,” the waitress said.
Mother laid a dime on the counter, and we left without ordering another thing. To this day, I’m a little spooked when I order a Dairy Queen Dipped Cone. You never know---it just might happen again.
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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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