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In this story, we meet Jenny, who is violated, ruined, etc, etc, by a young man named Billy Floyd who is only passing through and for whom she feels a great and mysterious love.  Everything happens around the time of her grandfather’s death, which serves to heighten the poignancy of the story.  Like all else Welty, however, the real draw is in the language—the absolute lyricism, the pure, sharp insight into the human spirit.

 

Consider this passage:

 

She walked in the woods and around the graves in it, and knew about love, how it would have a different story in the world if it could lose the moral knowledge of a mystery that is in the other heart.  Nothing in Floyd frightened her that drew her near, but at once she had the knowledge come to her that a fragile mystery was in everyone and in herself, since there it was in Floyd, and that whatever she did, she would be bound to ride over and hurt, and the secrecy of life was the terror of it.

 

Jenny hangs on to this deep thoughtfulness about her love despite Billy Floyd never showing much in the way of consideration for her.  When he moves on, she follows him after a time.  The story ends with her waiting for him, a smile on her face the likes of which make children ask if she is dead.  No doubt nothing good can came from that.  I’m not sure Jenny will be deterred either way.  She seems willing enough to love with no encouragement or assurance.  She seems pulled that strongly toward the mystery of it all.

 

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Marshall Ramsey, cartoonist for Jackson’s Clarion Ledger, spoke at the Creating Futures Through Technology Conference.  Most of the cartoons he showed had political themes, as might be expected.  He had one about the passing of Eudora Welty, though, and I wish I could post a copy here.  It showed her atop the clouds with William Faulkner, Margaret Walker Alexander, and Willie Morris, all great authors from Mississippi.  The caption showed Willie Morris saying, “It’s not Mississippi, but it’s still Heaven.”  Great stuff.  I did appreciate that he took time out from political mockeries to pay homage to Welty.  I also appreciated that he picked that cartoon to show us at the technology conference.

Contributed by Carole Ezell.

About twelve years ago (urp), I wrote my master’s thesis on Welty’s short story cycle, The Golden Apples.  It has now been about that long since I read it, but I still think of the process of reading and re-reading it as something like driving through fog.  On my first reading, things were fuzzy around the edges, characters and events a little obscured by Welty’s language.   I remember Noel Polk calling on me in his Southern Lit class in grad school the day we discussed The Golden Apples.  I smiled, what must have looked like a knowing smile, at something he’d mentioned, so he called on me to explain what had happened at the lake.  As I stumbled along, I hoped very hard that I had actually understood and wasn’t making a fool of myself.  As I read it over and over, things began to emerge from the fog, events I had read over, past, around, until they seemed so glaringly obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen them there all along.  I wrote my thesis about these hidden moments of sexual violence.  I love the way that Welty uses words to cloak her character’s lives, and writing this has me curious to pick The Golden Apples up again, to see if the fog might have settled around her words again.

On a totally random note (not really part of the blog entry), every time I buy a new pair of shoes I think of Welty writing in One Writer’s Beginnings about how her father always scored the soles of slippery new shoes with his pocket knife in a diamond pattern so that she wouldn’t fall down.

Welty tells an anecdote about her mother who, while traveling back and forth to her teaching job as a young woman, would recite poems from the McDuffie Reader to herself “to pass the time.” And:

She could still recite them in full when she was lying helpless and nearly blind, in her bed, an old lady. Reciting, her voice took on resonance and firmness, it rang with the old fervor, with ferocity even. She was teaching me one more, almost her last, lesson: emotions do not grow old. I knew that I would feel as she did, and I do.

What a profound lesson to learn, what a turning point it is in young lives, and how aptly expressed it is here. Precisely. Emotions do not grow old.

These are random lines from the short story “Livvie.”

This was the way he looked in his clothes,
a different and smaller man, holding
his Bible. Like somebody kin to himself.

He was the same to her as if he was dead,
far away in his sleep—small, relentless,
and devout. Outside, the ground
scarred in deep whorls, every vestige
of grass patiently uprooted.

Even old men dreamed
about something pretty.

Like a commotion in the room,
the frogs sung out. In Solomon’s face,
came an animation that could
play hide and seek, that would dart
and escape, had always escaped.

The mystery flickered in him,
invited from his eyes, frightened her
a little, as if he might carry her
with him that way,
when he might be going to die.

She could be so still she could not
hear herself breathe. She did not think
of that, tasting the chicken broth
on the stove, gently as if not to disturb
some whole thing he held round
in his mind, like a fresh egg.

Now I lay eyes on a young man,
Old Solomon far away in his sleep,
walking somewhere where she could
imagine the snow falling.

Regarding long family drives to West Virginia and Ohio, Welty says:

That kind of travel made you conscious of borders; you rode ready for them.  Crossing a river, crossing a county line, crossing a state line—especially crossing a line you couldn’t see but knew was there, between the South and the North—you could draw a breath a feel the difference.

I can relate.  On long drives I always pick points along the way that I’m waiting to reach.  The end of the trip is too far.  I need my milestones along the way.  Usually, state and county lines feature in the markers I seek.  Perhaps in my South and Welty’s, in a land where all borders are about “Us” and “Them” in the very largest sense, those lines are even more significant.  Perhaps.

From One Writer’s Beginnings…

My mother’s hat rode in the back with the children, suspended over our heads in a pillowcase.  It rose and fell with us when we hit the bumps, thumped our heads and batted our ears in an authoritative manner when sometimes we bounced as high as the ceiling.  This was 1917 or 1918; a lady couldn’t expect to travel without a hat.

Classic.  Perhaps Aretha has nothing on Eudora’s mama.

Memories of Miss Eudora abound at the TYCA-SE conference where I have spent my week.  She attended a luncheon in 1987 when the conference was held in Jackson.  She did not speak.  She agreed only to her presence, and that was more than enough to thrill the hearts of English teachers across the Southeast for many years to come.  It’s been suggested that she was lured to the conference with promises of sherry, but I’ll leave that to others to ponder. 

 

I’ve just enjoyed the memories.  She rode in Beverly’s car and made several comments about how much she liked it.  Mark Reynolds introduced her.  She signed a composition textbook for a woman who accidentally handed her the wrong book from a stack.  She made memories for one and all.

My favorite story told this week, however, came from Beverly Fatherree who works as a tour guide at the Welty house.  The subject came up of whether the award given to Miss Eudora by TYCA-SE in 1987 might still be in her house.  Bev’s answer is that she didn’t display any of her awards.  Even her Pulitzer Prize was kept in a box in the closet.  Other prestigious awards were stuffed under the bed.

 

Because she did not display awards the Welty house does not display them now.  However, an education center will be opening soon.  Her commendations will find the light of day there.  We have hopes that the one given by our every so humble organization will be among them.

Thanks to Thad Cockrill who loaned me (emphasis on “loan,” he says) his copy of The Southern Register, I can now know about Occasions:  Selected Writings by Eudora Welty, to be released this year by University Press of Mississippi.  It’s a collection of Welty pieces that have not previously been collected.  I’m very much looking forward.

The lady in the purple hat is a mystery, an institution, a ghost at the Palace of Pleasure in New Orleans.  We know this because the fat man at the bar tells us so.  We know he’s seen her killed three times. We know he’s seen her series of young men, who always seem to be the same young man, over a period of decades.  We know the hat is ancient and fascinating, that she always wears the same one, and that it and fashion have no purchase with one another.

We know so much.  But we don’t know if she’s really a ghost because the fat man says at the end he’s going to tell us that tomorrow.

Fun story with lots to talk about.  Is this Welty’s version of the Gothic?  She said didn’t appreciate being called gothic, but she seems to have had some fun with New Orleans style myth-making in this story.

Is the fat man a reliable narrator?  That, children, is a good question.