Goodbye Sweet Kathryn

Kathryn Tucker Windham joined the ancestors yesterday.

Bless her.

She was 93 and passed away at home, with her family around her.

I’ve been in her company a fair number of times but one in particular was so wonderful — it was one hot July Saturday at Mishkan Israel in Selma.  Al Benn‘s grandson had come in to have his bar mitzvah there and Al asked Av to be the Cantor that day.  Oh it was just a lovely thing  (Av and I used to regularly go to Selma for High Holidays so we could enjoy a smaller setting and of course just enjoy being in the company of everyone).   Al and KTW are friends, so of course she came for the bar mitzvah too.

Mishkan Israel is an old, beautiful building, and by virtue of it being so old, the sanctuary has never been fiddled with to include air conditioning.  Just look at how gorgeous — later I’ll ask Av to add in an exterior shot:

At Mishkan Israel
Mishkan Israel

(Images of human figures is something you almost never see in synagogues (because of Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 5:8, about graven images) — I’ll show another exception to that rule here in Alabama in a later post — but here’s one in Selma)
Mishkan Israel

Well, it was a wonderful service and afterwards we all ran into the cultural center to bask in the air conditioning.  KTW sat next to me and we just had the most wonderful time talking, mostly about gardens and watermelons in particular.  Afterwards, I wondered to myself: why didn’t you talk with her about Julia Tutwiler (KTW used to do a one-woman show as her)? Why didn’t you talk with her about Mt. Nebo (we both love cemeteries)?  Why didn’t you talk with her about bottle trees (same)?  And so on and so forth.  But fact is, besides basking in air conditioning, I mostly was basking in just listening to her.  She could have talked about anything and I would have been tickled pink.

Just as an understatement, she was a special person.  And everyone knew it.

Here she is, autographing a book for Shug three years ago: 

It’s Al Benn, whose grandson had the bar mitzvah she attended, that wrote the piece in yesterday’s Montgomery Advertiser about KTW.

The letter she wrote to my friend Tat about the Huntsville Times’ article about him and his homemade coffin reads in part:


…Mine was built of 150-year-old heart pine salvaged from an old warehouse.  It has rope handles, but is not lined: I plan to be wrapped in a quilt a friend made for me.  My coffin is built six-sided, the real old-fashioned way.  I have a sack of square nails to nail the top down.  Like you, I do not intend to be embalmed or to use a hearse.  In fact, I plan to by-pass the funeral home entirely.  

She wrote her own four-line obituary that only included facts about her family, but of course the AP ran its own.

This is from a piece Al wrote about her 90th birthday party three years ago:

Inside, her friends were treated to Moon Pies, grape soda and water as they pushed toward the table to get a piece of her birthday cake. Among those celebrating was author and political observer Wayne Flynt, who is familiar with the glare of spotlights. He described Windham as a woman who is unique in Alabama.

“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,” he said.

Wonderful forever: my friend Joey Brackner’s interview with her for the Alabama Arts Radio Series.  Fabulous.

Leave a Reply