For Christmas, I gave my granddaughter a compilation of Eudora Welty’s novels. She’s a passionate reader and tore into the book as quickly as she unwrapped it. The short stories, however, were not consisted of. Yesterday, we drove to a large national bookstore chain (aka quasi toy store and puzzle store) to buy one of Miss Welty’s finest Why I Live at the P.O.. After an extensive search of the racks, I couldn’t discover any of Miss Welty’s works so I approached the girl standing behind the customer support desk.
“May I help you?” she asked me. She was mid-twenties, long straight hair, Pal Holly glasses, and a severe expression.
“Where are Eudora Welty’s books?” I asked.
Eudora Welty,” I duplicated.
“I do not think I know her,” the young woman replied. My mental thermometer increased. I swallowed the word “moron” and plowed ahead. “She’s a popular Mississippi writer.” I continued.
“Oh?” Her eyebrows arched. “Let me inspect the computer system.” As her hands flew over the details keyboard, she asked, “Welty?”
“Yes,” I answered. “Eudora Pulitzer Welty!” I didn’t scream, but I wished to. My granddaughter questioned why her docile Nanny was on fire.
“Can you spell that?” she asked.
“W-E-L-T-Y,” I answered.
“Ummmm. I don’t see anything here,” the clerk stated.
Thankfully, the store manager saw the unfolding drama and stepped in. “Yes, Eudora Welty,” she said. “What a fantastic writer. I’ll look.” After a 2nd computer system search, the manager reported that the store no longer carried Miss Welty’s works.
My granddaughter was disappointed therefore was I. “I’ll buy it for you,” I said. Then I informed her about among the most wonderful experiences in my reading life.
I was young, not growing up young, however recently wed young. A females’s club in Jackson welcomed Miss Welty to appear and read Why I Live at the P.O.. A series of outstanding English instructors had spoken about her for several years, along with other wonderful Mississippi names such as William Faulkner, Shelby Foote, and Walker Percy. My seventh-grade teacher danced around Tennessee Williams however was careful not to go over the material of his work. Each instructor discussed that our little, bad state was a workshop of creative excellence and repository of dazzling writers. Fires, floods, twisters, or a renewal of the black plague would not keep me from hearing Miss Welty. It occurred one night in October.
Our big conference room did not have a phase, rippling curtains, or artful potted palms, however it was as full as an “open up the folding chairs” revival. In the center, Miss Welty beinged in an overstuffed armchair holding her words in her lap. She was a thin, grey-haired female with a soft voice and an expressive face. She thanked us for welcoming her, then lifted her book and started to check out. Within minutes, it was the Fourth of July in China Grove Mississippi. Sister and Stella Rondo were at it once again, Papa Daddy had not shaved, and the evasive Mr. Whitaker stayed elusive. What a pleasure! After Miss Welty completed her story, and Sibling had actually established herself in the P.O., we increased as one, and provided her a rousing standing ovation.
As I was driving house, I began to wonder how this gifted woman created such a fascinating story. Miss Welty was a professional photographer as well as an author; both skills were beyond comparing. As she traveled the state as a WPA agent, the seeds of her stories strolled right in front of her. Sometimes, they smiled and waved. Her razor-sharp mind cobbled those seeds into incredible stories. Simply my guess, however it appears possible. Bravo for one of Mississippi’s first girl of literature. I wish she was still living on Pinehurst Street, puttering in her garden and true blessing us with a torrent of stories.
Another question, how does it happen here? After long years of reading, composing, and just taking a look around, I’m convinced Mississippi is a blend of fiction with a component of reality, in addition to fact blended with an element of fiction. Both aching to be told. It’s awakening early prior to it gets hot and the sky is a patchwork of pink and blue. It’s a combined fragrance of sweet olive, honeysuckle and dirt combined with pounding rain. It’s informing a tale from way back before anybody forgets. Here, we are story people. It’s natural, born in our blood, inherited from southern soil, and nourished by time. We have history too, sometimes joyful, in some cases accompanied by fantastic discomfort. However ours.
Although Mississippi provides an abundance of inspiration, discussing it can be difficult. The task needs opening a vein, bleeding words, then spreading them out for all to see. It’s a direct exposure of the soul. As Miss Welty said, “No art ever came out by not risking your neck.” Luckily, many our home-grown folks have taken that danger. I pity the clerk in the bookstore. She’s missed out on a lot, and I really hope she’s not going for a master’s degree in English literature. Perhaps W-E-L-T-Y will remain in her brain, and she’ll take a danger too.