(Unless otherwise noted, the Kathryn Tucker Windham blog is written by her daughter, Dilcy Windham Hilley.)
When Mother got really old, she decided to write a book about getting really old.
Mother was a prolific writer with more than two dozen books in publication when, at 92, she decided to take on this new subject matter. She’d always written about the places, people and topics she’d known best, and old age was no exception. She said she would write about the burdens and mishaps of having to deal with the visitor that life’s December delivers to your door. She would call it SHE: The Old Woman Who Took Over My Life.
As she always did when she wrote, Mother sat at the dining room table with a yellow legal pad and began in longhand. She was not especially well at the time, but she chose to ignore her failing heart and to get on with a project that seemed to energize her. She was in and out of the hospital and physical therapy in those months, but still she wrote.
When I went to Selma to visit, she was eager to share new chapters with me. She read aloud to me about her visit to the ophthalmologist who was aghast to learn that Mother had driven herself to his office. She read to me the chapter about repeatedly dialing her prescription number instead of the number for the pharmacy. I cackled out loud about her quest to stay fit by goose stepping through the house while arm-pumping cans of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.
It was good writing. It was hard work. And then one day it came to an end.
Mother was back in the hospital. She’d hit a particularly rough patch, and her spirit was damaged. I went to see about her, and I asked how “SHE” was coming along.
“I’ve given up on it,” she told me. “It’s no good.” Mother died within weeks.
Her editor and good friend, Randall Williams of NewSouth Books, wouldn’t let the project die with her. By some miraculous turn, he took the barely legible manuscript and pieced it together with pages she had already given him, and he made a book.
I wish Mother had lived to see it published. It was on the local bestseller list for weeks and weeks. So many people have told me what joy they’ve gotten from that slender little volume. Now in paperback, it remains a strong seller. It was good.
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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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