Service recalls a ‘life well lived’

Published 11:00 pm Monday, June 27, 2011

Kathryn Tucker Windham didn’t want people making “a fuss” over her.

But, oh, what a fuss was made over her on Sunday.

And wouldn’t “Miss Kathryn” have loved to be there with all the stories being told, songs being sung, combs being played and the laughter being shared.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

It was a celebration of life – the life of Kathryn Tucker Windham.

More than 500 people packed the Church Street United Methodist Church in Selma Sunday to celebrated the life of Kathryn Tucker Windham, Alabama’s supreme storyteller, author, photographer, and journalist, who died at her home on June 12, 2011 at the age of 93.

People came from all walks of life to celebrate the life of the legendary lady with the slow Southern drawl who was schooled on the Four L’s of life – learn, listen, laugh and love. They came from cities and rural hamlets. They came in suits and ties and tee shirts and sandals. They all came out of love for “Miss Kathryn.”

An hour of more before the service began, the church was filled with “story speak” as one after the other shared stories across pews about “Miss Kathryn.”

If there were any tears shed at the “celebration,” they were tears of laughter. And, that’s what Kathryn Windham’s life was about – sharing the stories and the laughter.

Donald Davis, storyteller and Windham’s close and longtime friend, was the featured speaker at the celebration. Davis said that Windham’s stories could have been of a different kind. She could have chosen to tell about the hardships of living through the Great Depression, about being widowed at age 36 with three young children to raise, about the struggles of making a place for herself in the world of journalism and about being on the school board in Selma when the schools were desegregated.

But she chose instead to talk about the happy times, about the laughter and the love, Davis said.

“Kathryn said that happiness is not a prize that we win,” Davis said. “Happiness is a decision that we make. A decision that she made. ‘She was twice blessed. She was happy and she knew it.’”

Davis spoke candidly and lovingly of his storyteller friend.

He told how they had discussed the inevitable and how Windham said that she didn’t want any kind of memorial service. However, she finally agreed to one if Davis would “do it.”

“Kathryn told me that she wanted me to wear exactly what I had on right then,” he said and stepped from behind the podium wearing a light blue seersucker suit, a bowtie and black and white, wingtip shoes. “She said this would go with her coffin.” (Windham was buried in an old time, six-sided pine coffin.)

Davis said that, prior to the service, he had listened as people talked about their affection for Windham and had to correct them several times.

“I would hear someone say that Kathryn Windham was one in a million,” Davis said. “We’ve got 307 million people in this county but we don’t have 307 Kathryn Tucker Windhams.”

Davis said Windham was one of a kind and she will live on through her stories and through the many lives that she has touched.

The Dill Pickers, the featured band at Windham’s annual Tale Tellin’ Festival in Selma, played several of Windham’s favorite songs and the church choir played, “When We All Get to Heaven” on combs and everyone raised the rafters with several selections, including Windham’s favorite, “I’ll Fly Away.”

Norton Dill closed the celebration with a story that brought into focus what Windham’s life was all about.

He told how, when Kathryn Tucker Windham was lowered to her final resting place, the ropes being used could not be pulled from beneath the coffin and how a man lowered himself into the six-foot grave to release them.

Then two ministers reached down into the grave and pulled him up.

Hands, black and white, clasped together.

What a final testimony to a great lady who brought so much happiness and togetherness to so many for so long.

Kathryn Tucker Windham was twice blessed.

She was happy. And she knew it.