Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Welty House

I first encountered her at a family gathering where I joined Mama, Papa Daddy, Stella Rondo, Uncle Rondo and Shirley T before Sister moved to the Post Office on Independence Day. It was in my first encounter that I began to feel a bond unlike any I had ever felt before. Over the years as my love for Eudora Welty and her literature grew that bond became stronger. I began to realize that bond came from seeing myself in her stories and seeing my life in her life outside of her stories. She was a woman who loved her home, and no matter where she traveled or how long away she stayed, home for her was always Mississippi. She wrote about both the ugly side and the beautiful side of Mississippi. She was a woman who surrounded herself with friends and family; she listened to the stories that life presented and told those stories with beauty and language that only she knew how to use. The more I meet of Welty the more I fall in love with her. In life there are always those few loves that define a person, and Eudora Welty and her work are two of mine.
Today I visited Miss Welty's house. I had driven by her house in nostalgia on my way to her lying in state after she died. There were flowers lying on the front steps where her many fans had come to pay their respects. Today was the first time I placed my feet on the worn path of her home. As I entered the house and the door closed behind me chills ran over me. I was overly pleased to see that the museum curators left books lying on the couch and various chairs. Every picture of Eudora Welty that I've seen showed in the background books covering any surface possible. I wanted to sit in the chair from which she gave many an interview, and I wanted to drink tea while looking out over her garden. As a tourist, the guides refused me both of those pleasures, but they provided many more. I stood and looked over at the desk where she wrote daily. I saw the cubby-holed dresser where Welty placed correspondences and that inspired Laurel to pull out her mother's old letters in the
Optimist's Daughter. I heard the stories I've read or heard thousands of times about how witty and clever and charming Welty was. I imagined myself walking in as a friend of Welty's, sitting on the couch next to her favorite chair while she offered me a glass of Makers. I put myself in the shoes of women I inspire to be like --those who came before me in my field -- and had the chance to not only meet but get to know Miss Welty.
Today's journey to the intimate world of Welty only intensified my love for her. I am resigned to the fact that I'll never be able to write like her -- for few can. I'm content spending my life getting to know better the woman who so beautifully and truthfully portrayed this place that I too call home. Her writing never ceases to speak to me, motivate me, move me, or impress me, and her life never ceases to inspire me. There are several reasons why people study certain writers, and there are many reasons why I chose Welty. Yet for me, at the heart of every reason lies that bond that began upon first reading "Why I Live at the P. O." and continues to grow stronger with every encounter I have with Miss Welty.

That is what I wrote when I first went to tour Eudora Welty's house a year ago. This summer, I was able to volunteer at the house. I spent about six weeks helping out at the house. I gave tours to visitors, cataloged her family photos, learned about the garden, and spent hours walking through her home. It was beyond belief for me. Throught the time I was there, I never had a moment where I took for granted where I was. I still got chills or a surge of jittery excitement every time I walked into her house and then again when I walked into the bedroom. I only got scolded once for touching things. The house has been left so that you feel like you are in a friend's home. I went to grab a book off the shelf before realizing I wasn't supposed to touch things. I think the most amazing thing about my time at the Welty house was the people that I met. The house is run by Welty's neice, Mary Alice White (who is president of the Eudora Welty Foundation). The other workers at the house were some of the nicest people I've ever met.
I strongly encourage you to check out the house if you are in Jackson. Tours are given of the garden and the house on Wednesday through Friday. You can check out the website to make reservations or to take a virtual tour of the house.

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