Ben is earnestly blowing his trombone.
(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blogs are written by her children, Ben Windham and Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
Tornados are a fact of life in Alabama. It doesn’t mean, however, that we take tornadic activity lightly. When the sirens go off and local weatherman James Spann says, “Go to your place of safety,” we do.
So it was one spring evening in Selma, when I was visiting Mother for the weekend. We had just finished supper---and if you don’t know that it was supper and not dinner, you didn’t know Mother very well---when the sirens went off. It had been a sloggy, sultry sort of afternoon, too still and hot for April, just the sort of weather that tornadoes thrive in.
Because there was no basement in Mother’s house, we decided the narrow hallway in the heart of the house would be our most protective place of safety. We picked up two straight-back chairs from the dining room table. As an afterthought, Mother went to the kitchen and reappeared with a half-full liter of red wine and two glasses.
“Well, we might be here a little while,” she said by way of explanation.
Now Mother’s hallway was a gallery of photographs, all sorts of photographs, hung top to bottom on a pegboard wall. So as the sirens continue to sound, we sat in that passage and talked about the pictures before us. We laughed about the photograph of her dressed up as a six-year-old George Washington for a school play. She told me about going to Bull Pen Hunting Lodge, the first female ever allowed there, to cover a story for The Montgomery Advertiser. The proof was there in a photograph of deer carcasses with Mother in the foreground in knee-high lace-up boots.
The sirens continued, and we were perfectly content to drink wine and shelter in our place of safety.
Mother told me about the picture of the birthday party where she appeared to be about five, and everyone had on festive hats made of construction paper. I asked her about another photo of her taken at her third birthday where she sat all alone with a gigantic cake and a small umbrella. She assured me it was a grand occasion though in the picture she looks lonely.
More blasts from the sirens and another glass of wine as we chatted about the certificates among the pictures. Letters from Albert Brewer and Bill Clinton and even some sort of official notice from Governor George Wallace hung on the pegboard wall, along with a picture of my brother Ben earnestly blowing his trombone.
It was a while before we noticed the sirens hadn’t sounded in quite some time.
“I suppose it’s safe to go back to the dining room,” Mother said. I supposed so too, though I could have stayed in that narrow hall with her picture stories all evening.
I think of that night often now in the midst of tornado season and wonder where I might ever go again that would feel so safe.
Kathryn is the birthday party guest in the middle with her hand on her hat.
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–Wayne Flynt, Professor Emeritus in the Department of History at Auburn University.
Ben Windham & Dilcy Windham Hilley
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