"I think we need to be put back in touch with our childhood...to be reminded of what's important, like memories about people we loved, or things that happened to us that affected our lives, things we can laugh about and shed a few tears about... I think storytelling is a way of saying 'I love you. I love you enough to tell you something that means a great deal to me.' "
-- Kathryn Tucker Windham
If you don't know who Jeffrey the ghost is, boy did you miss out on childhood ghost stories that could make you shiver and laugh in one sitting. He lived at Windham house and he created quite a stir for many years...
I spent my childhood reading of course, reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. Shakespeare, Faulker, Dickinson, Alcott, Austen, Pike, Stine, Pascal, Keene and so many others...as you can see my genre choices were quite varied. In the mix were two names that are famous not only to many parts of the world but are royalty in my neck of the woods: Lee & Tucker. Harper Lee wrote the famous "To Kill A Mockingbird" - the stirring book that faces problems with race, culture and ignorance from the eyes of children - she lives only 35 minutes down the road (literally) from my childhood home.
Then there is Tucker. Kathryn Tucker Windham - she brought to our attention a little ghost by the name of Jeffrey but she also helped all of us learn the rich ghost stories and heritage of our beloved South. She did not just make up stories for us to imagine, she traveled to the areas that had for many years before her time had been passing down the legends, the horrors, the comedies and the tragedies that encompass any small town. She retold those stories, made towns no bigger than your thumb famous, helped tell visitors why they should jump off the interstate and seek the scenic rather than the quick. She was someone who believed that history could be passed down by word of mouth & written word when told in the vernacular of its beginnings. She began a festival in the historic town of Selma Alabama...a Tale Tellin' Festival that I was blessed to go to as a child. She would be at many festivals as I grew up...she would sign her books, smile at you with a broad brim hat on her head and she would open her mouth to begin telling a tale that would touch you for a lifetime. She was one of those, in my group of beloved authors, who helped me understand that I could be whoever I wanted to be. That I could stand tall on my heritage and could write, could write what I wanted and enjoy it throughout my life. She inspired me by loving what she did so much.
Before her storytelling made her famous she just so happened to become one of the first female reporters to cover a police beat in a major Southern daily in 1939. Men were going to war; she needed a job and she had talent. She already loved photography and at a young age had been a jr reporter for her hometown of Thomasville's paper...her hometown by the way...is around 28 minutes from my own. Such talent so close to home...crazy how small our world is.
Storytelling is an art. Being able to relay information that not only informs but ignites ideas, memories, sorrow, and happiness for the listener is an amazing gift. She did not always write it down like us writers do in order to imprint it on her fans' minds, she could do it with her voice, the intonation, the inflection of syllable by syllable. Her art won many types of recognition, I am sure she was quite thankful. But to be honest having seen her in the flesh, having listened to her and read her stories I know that the accolades were important because they brought attention to something she loved not just that they brought attention to her. She reminded us that our legacies, our past, our heritage is worth passing down. It is important to those yet to come that we give them this gift, this loving wonderful gift of who we are.
Kathryn Tucker Windham died yesterday. She was 93. She lived a long life full of adventures that we are so blessed to even know about. She will be sorely missed and will forever be a part of my own dreams of being a writer. But even more importantly she is truly the reason I enjoy Southern heritage so much. She made it interesting, she made it unique and she made it real.
Go to your local bookstore, see if they carry any of her books. Visit Amazon.com and order a book about a ghost named Jeffrey. He will make you smile, I promise.