By: Kathryn Tucker Windham
Reviewed by: Rebecca Dempsey
NewSouth Books, 2009
Kathryn Tucker Windham’s memoir is refreshing because it is not about childhood trauma; there is no abuse or poverty in this story. Rather, it is a nostalgic look back to a distant childhood and a past era of the American South. Windham’s remembrances are tender without being sentimental, and the tone of Spit, Scarey Ann, & Sweat Bees: One Thing Leads to Another is one of tranquility, as if Windham is writing simply because she enjoys savoring her memories.
Windham writes of growing up in Thomasville, Alabama, between 1918 and 1935 when electric lights were supplied by the local sawmill which shut down promptly at 10:30 every night, leaving the town in pitch darkness. She describes fishing for doodle bugs and making frog houses, which she illuminated by pressing lightening bugs into the mud walls. She depicts in vivid detail the time her father pulled her brother Wilson out of a high school football game because he was playing poorly. Her father sent Wilson home without consulting the coach: a remarkable comment on the times.
The brevity of Spit, Scarey Ann, & Sweat Bees left me with the desire to know more. Windham makes only a passing mention of her attendance at Huntingdon College, and a description of college life in the 1930s would have been fascinating. No mention at all is made of the effects of the Great Depression on her family and town. These additions, as well as further development of character, would have enriched the narrative.
Windham’s mother emerges as the most interesting character. Helen Tucker loved to read and helped to establish Thomasville’s first public library, but never learned to drive. She planned good meals and grew beautiful flowers, but she hated to iron and clean house. Her philosophy was to “shake the garment out and walk fast” (and this was before permanent press.) She would “hurry to the front door to greet company, dusting with her petticoat as she went.” These habits in a time when women were expected to be perfect homemakers are unpredictable, and again, I would like to know more.
Windham worked as a reporter and photographer after her graduation from college, and her inclination to both professions is evident throughout her memoir. Spit, Scarey Ann, & Sweat Bees contains highly visual images, and it is written almost as if Windham is viewing mental photographs. She scrutinizes one, reminisces of the anecdote surrounding it, and moves on to the next. Windham’s memoir is evidence of why she has earned the reputation of being Alabama’s favorite storyteller. June 2009
Rebecca Dempsey is a recent Master of Arts in English graduate of the University of Montevallo.