(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
In 1975, nearly a decade after the publication of several successful books of recipes and ghost stories, Mother decided she would write a book about her beloved Alabama.
She spent months poring over newspaper articles and interviewing folks with connections to the stories she wanted to include. The book was filled with accounts of Alabama characters such as Steve Renfroe, the outlaw sheriff, and Hatchett Chandler, who championed the restoration of Fort Morgan.
Mother tested out a number of book titles on her focus group family. I don’t remember all the names she came up with, but she finally settled on “Alabama: One Big Front Porch.” We all approved that choice, and in the book’s introduction, Mother explained the title:
Alabama, they say, is like one big front porch where folks gather on summer nights to tell tales and to talk to family. It’s a sprawling porch, stretching all the way from the Tennessee River valley to the sandy Gulf beaches, with its sides sometimes slipping over into Mississippi and Georgia. Folks there are close kin, too.
The tale-tellers don’t all look alike and they don’t all talk alike, but the stories they tell are all alike in their unmistakable Southern blend of exaggeration, pathos, folklore and romanticism. Family history is woven into the stories. And pride. And humor. Always humor.
And it was humor that came into play just after the book was published. We were all eagerly awaiting the announcement of its release and accompanying reviews of Mother’s latest literary pursuit. One of the state’s largest newspapers rushed to get word out about the publication. There, set in 60 point type, the paper announced: New Windham release is ‘Alabama: One Big Fruit Punch.’
Mother thought the mistake was hilarious and could hardly wait to add it to her repertoire of stories. The headline gods must have been on vacation that month. The next week, Mother mailed me a clipping from another large state newspaper that ran a picture of her with the unfortunate headline: Elephant, Dodo or What?
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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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