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Remembering ‘Cousin Kathryn’

By Harvey Hardy Jackson

Illustration by Dennis Auth

Has it really been that long ago?

June 2011.

Kathryn Tucker Windham died at home in her beloved Selma.

I can imagine the scene, imagine family and friends going to the back shed and removing the Rose Point crystal (service for 12, complete with water pitcher and butter dish) from the custom-built pine coffin where she kept it. And I can imagine her being laid to rest in that very coffin, wrapped in a Gees Bend quilt, according to her wishes.

We called ourselves “cousins,” Kathryn and I, though we were cousins only by marriage and even that was stretching it a bit.

However, we shared a love of history and appreciation of a good story, which bound us closer than kin.

I remembering visiting her one October day.

I arrived early. We talked a bit, snacked on graham crackers spread with pimento cheese, clarified family connections, and decried the loss of so many Selma landmarks.

Then we loaded up and headed into the Black Belt. “Into the Black Belt” – like we were going into some strange, exotic land from which we might never return. But with Cousin Kathryn we were safe. She knew where to go and who would be there.

Along the way she did what she did best – told stories that linked us to times past and resurrected people long gone from the earth.

When the day was done, I took her home.

Other visits followed.

More than once I took students down to see her. I let her set the agenda and it was always different. A trip to Old Cahaba where we picnicked on the site of Alabama’s first capital. A walking tour of Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery where she pointed out graves of little-known people who should be known better.

After she finished one of her stories a student asked, “Did that really happen”?

“Well,” she said, “If it did not happen that way, it should have.”

Those were good times.

There were not enough of them.

(For one student’s article on the outing go to wesharethesamesky.com/tag/sel- ma/)

Despite frequent invitations, I never made it to her New Year’s Day blackeyed peas and cornbread lunch, when her doors were thrown open to anyone who wanted to make sure good luck would follow for another year.

Nor did I do with her so many other things I should have done.

Like take my children more often.

Our last communication was the graduation gift she sent my boy. A money clip. The sort a young gentleman should carry, for we all know that pulling out a billfold for minor transactions is, well, tacky.

When it arrived, I recalled a bit of poetry she loved, based on a verse by Jan Struther. Cousin Kathryn said she wanted it on her tombstone.

She was twice blessed. She was happy.
She knew it.

That was Cousin Kathryn.
She left out one thing.
We all were blessed by her being here. Now, I think I’ll have some graham crackers and pimento cheese.