13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey was first published in 1969 and by the mid-80s, at least, it was a regional ‘classic’ – even taught in schools. In elementary school, I remember being read sections of the book, and in sixth grade English my class was taught the book by a friend of the author. In fact, the teacher told of the time when she called Kathryn Tucker Windham’s home in Selma and Jeffrey (Kathryn’s home’s ghost) picked up the phone.
He didn’t say anything.
But we were told it was most certainly Jeffrey.
That teacher also loved to tell us (multiple times) that she grew up and went to school with Polly Holliday, another Alabama native, who played the waitress ‘Flo’ on ‘Alice’. I remember thinking that I wasn’t terribly impressed because Polly Holliday said “kiss my grits” and a lady should never say something like that! Especially on television for the whole world to see and hear! My sixth-grade sensibilities were offended.
Well, back to Jeffrey. Red Mountain Theatre Company in B’ham has turned ’13 Alabama Ghosts…’ into a musical, and it’s being performed this weekend. Some of the performances are already sold out.
This is the show art they developed – a pic of Kathryn visiting Live Oak Cemetery in Selma:
My favorite thing is the article that came out about KTW earlier this month in the B’ham News that read in part:
“My father was the greatest storyteller that I’ve ever listened to,” she says. “He told Bible stories that were so wonderful. The people he talked about — they loved and they hated and they sinned and they repented and they were good and they were bad.
“They were real people. I used to go to Sunday school and hear these little namby-pamby stories about Bible characters, and I thought, ‘I don’t believe you read the same book my daddy did.’”
Jeffrey — named by one of her children — “stirred up my interest in ghost stories,” Windham says. “I went back to Huntingdon, where I had a marvelous folklore teacher named Margaret Gillis Figh, and I went and bragged to her about maybe having a ghost in my house. We began to talk about famous ghost stories in Alabama and lament the fact that they hadn’t all been collected and put in a book for everybody to read.”
— That audience included Rick Bragg, a young fan who would become a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer and author.
“It’s funny that you can read something that’s intended to be scary, but it’s also reassuring and kind of staples you in place,” Bragg says. “It’s one of those things that is so inherently Alabama. It’s one of those things you just recognize, and if you mention it to people of my age, or any age really, they say, ‘Oh, yeah.’”
So humble that it makes Hydock’s job easy when she’s asked, as she was last weekend in Jonesborough, to introduce Windham, whose many accolades include induction into the Alabama Academy of Honor. Novelist Harper Lee, now one of Windham’s best friends, nominated her.
“Kathryn,” Hydock says, “does not allow the emcee to say anything in an introduction, except: ‘This is Kathryn Tucker Windham, she’s from Selma, Alabama, and she tells stories.’”
Windham laments the loss of storytelling in families and chalks that up to a number of factors, including air-conditioning (“It moved people off the front porch and into the house to watch television”), the disappearance of country stores (“People would come and go and tell stories, and I don’t hear them telling any in Walmart”) and funeral homes.
“When people died, you used to go to their homes and sit up with the dead,” Windham says. “Different people would come in and tell stories about the dead person. These were wonderful stories told all through the night, but we don’t do that anymore.”
Windham does. She often takes guests out to Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery and sets up a picnic on one of the slabs in the graveyard, which she did with Hydock.
“We took out our sandwiches and iced tea, and she referred to the name on the tombstone,” Hydock says. “She said, ‘I just think the .¤.¤. family would love that we’re here enjoying this.’”
“One of my favorite stories about that is from my son, Ben,” she recalls. “Someone said to him, ‘Ben, your mama writes those crazy little stories and surely you don’t believe in ghosts.’ Ben said, ‘Well, they sent three of us to college.’”