The gift of words from a friend

Published 11:00 pm Friday, December 14, 2012

Shuffling through a box of cards and letters the other day, I came across a Christmas card that legendary Alabama storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham sent me several years ago.

On it, she had written, “This is not a Christmas card but it has a chicken on it. Merry Christmas!”

She and I had this chicken thing going it. We liked to share “little known” facts about chickens, such as chicken glasses and chicken language, and chicken stories. So, when we sent cards, we’d send cards with chickens on them whether the card fit the occasion or not.

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That “Christmas” card with a chicken reminded me of one special Christmas that I spent several hours with Kathryn. She had told me a long time before, “Don’t call me Mrs. Windham. Call me Kathryn.” For a while, it was uncomfortable but I was not about to do otherwise.

It was Christmas 2009 and Kathryn Windham was the storyteller for the Chili Country Christmas at the We Piddle Around Theater. She went with me to the Christmas luncheon at my church. Being a Methodist, too, Kathryn was “up for casseroles” as she laughed and said. During lunch, someone mentioned an item that they had bought at the Dollar Tree in Troy.

On the way back to the hotel, Kathryn asked me if I knew where the Dollar Tree was. Then, she wanted to go there and do a little shopping.

I parked and reached for her coat. She stopped me.

“I’m not going in, you are,” she said.

I did a “little” Christmas shopping for her – walking to the window and holding up an item. She would shake her head, yes or no. A few times, I had to ask permission to take an item out to the car so Kathryn could “check the feel” of it.

When we got back to the hotel and she settled down in her room, I started to leave.

“Oh, don’t go,” she said. “Sit with me a while.”

What a Christmas gift that was for me. To sit for a while with “Miss Kathryn.”

We talked about a lot of things. We shared memories of the Christmases in our lives. Her desire for a red scooter and mine for a plastic saxophone from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, of Christmas trees, traditions and tales. Later, we shared stories of the ones who no longer shared our Christmases and the void they left in our lives.

That was special to me because I had not heard Kathryn talk of the sadness in her life.

“People don’t want to hear about sad things,” she said, with a smile.

Then she gave me a gift that I will always treasure and one that continues to make a difference in my life. It was a gift of words, a gift of wisdom.

“Happiness is not a prize you win,” she said. “Happiness is a decision that you make every day of your life. Every day, I make a decision to be happy. That’s a good way to live your life.”

What a wonderful gift at Christmastime.