By: Kathryn Tucker Windham
Reviewed by: Bill Fuller
NewSouth Books, 2007
Kathryn Tucker Windham is strongly opposed to most introductions in public and will often nudge the enthusiastic fan tapped to offer opening remarks with "Hush and go stand over yonder." No doubt she also fiercely resists any form of book review, though the Windham canon, now spanning twenty-six volumes, is ripe for scholarly and artistic exegesis. (Is that her hoot of laughter?)
An early fall harvest this year yields the fresh edition of Windham’s vintage ’75 Alabama, One Big Front Porch. Its sixty-three tasty, timeless tales from the state’s eclectic history resemble clusters of golden ripe scuppernongs, packed with tang, laughter, and an elusive, juicy richness that calls for plucking more. The visionary gardeners at Alabama Southern Community College and NewSouth Books have nurtured and preserved this bountiful book for passing around supper tables, festivals, family-times, and porches of all sizes for countless seasons ahead.
The "Front Porch" tales offer a nick-of-time antidote to our turbulent, uncivil, and self-serious days of public strife and wounded spirits across America and the world. There is healing here, a blend that includes: a mystical glimpse of Welsh Prince Madoc’s 1170 discovery of Mobile Bay; a burbling, ancient Indian spring of prosperity deep below Montgomery’s Court Square; some haunting ceremonies round Hank Williams’ tombstone; a cosmic encounter with a fiery meteorite and living to sue for damages; the strange silence of mockingbirds and the risks of ground-itch and mad dogs in August; the inspiring reconciliation of the fierce warriors Red Eagle and Sam Dale; a tongue-tied Governor Pickens on the arrival of the heroic Marquis de Lafayette; the courageous mission of "Miss Jule" Tutwiler to meet Dr. George Washington Carver’s train under threat of "horsewhipping"; the wise use of dead snake carcasses to make it rain; a swift and sneaky Southern salt-ship named "War Eagle"; the saving of the Tuscaloosa President’s Mansion from fire with a bottle of wine; some gruesome feuds over burial rights for Alabama’s only U.S. Vice-President; the giant Vulcan’s long, rusty days lying down and his enigmatic romance with the statuesque Electra; and, yes, even the right political trap-bait for "Big Jim" Folsom. There is a deep stirring of medicine and tonic in these and many more stories.
The book’s photos of near-mythological landscapes and evocative portraits span decades of the author-photographer’s piercing, prophetic eye, though several from the original have sadly, mysteriously disappeared in this new edition. Blessedly, special exhibitions of her rich photo galleries are currently on tour.
Throughout this treasure-book, one senses, as always, an immediate, primal friendship with the Teller herself. She beckons us anew with her generous gifts and chuckling eyes to draw close in a circle on her cool, ever-widening porch of love.
Bill Fuller is an attorney and directs the Alabama Elder Justice Project / Cumberland Law School.