Eudora Welty once said that “Each writer must find out for himself, I imagine, on what strange basis he lives with his own stories.” This has always struck me as a particularly profound observation about not only the writer’s life, but “life” in general, the “stories” we all live.
Eudora Welty. One of America’s all-time great writers. One of America’s all-time great “Southern” writers. Master short-story writer. The best, maybe. And I’ve always had this secret fantasy that she and I, we’d meet. Maybe share a tall glass of lemonade. Talk about, oh, Truman Capote, maybe. I’d ask her things like “What was Truman Capote really like?” Things like that.
In this visit I’ve fantasized having with Eudora Welty, she’d graciously answer my pestering questions in that uniquely Mississippi way I’d imagine she has of speaking molasses-soft and ever so careful with her words, like she had only so many and didn’t want, couldn’t bear, to waste even one, as though she were giving directions to a hopelessly lost four-year-old who’d come to her crying uncontrollably, asking how to get home, then each word she’d utter would have just the exactly proper spacing between each one, their sounds coming out slowly, resembling, somewhat, a Norman Rockwell painting of a red-headed, freckle-faced, gap-toothed little boy seated at the local soda fountain sipping a tall chocolate milkshake, the kind they don’t make anymore.
And I’d ask Miss Welty (yes, I’d call her “Miss Welty,” wouldn’t dare call her “Eudora”; can’t ever bear to think such presumptuousness) why she’d spent nearly her whole life down there in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was born, why she’d not become, early on, a denizen, a player, up in great big New York City, say.
In our fantasy visit, I can just see her sitting there wearing an ankle-length primrose dress that buttoned at the neck and had wide, white, lace-edged bands at the bottoms of the sleeves. It’d have big, deep pockets on the sides and there’d be a baby magnolia blossom pinned way up high on the left there just under her chin. And she’d have her right elbow cupped by the deep-creased writerly palm of the left hand she’d be holding about waist high, her slender right index finger touching the length of her right cheek lightly. She’d be holding her head bent slightly down with a little lean-to-the-right angle, and her eyes, they’d “give” just a bit, like a good football player’s hands will when catching a hard pass, then they’d go all soft and forgiving, those eyes, be all shiny-like, as a loving mother’s will when her child has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
Then those words, those marvelously molasses-soft, Jackson, Mississippi words of hers, they’d start pouring out, slow and thoughtful, full of commas and colons and apostrophes and parentheses, and they’d flow on and on till it’d seem the very air’d be filled with them, that I’d be breathing those words and there’d be so many left over it’d seem I could swim in them. And when the last word had come and Miss Welty had added an unmistakable period to it, I’d feel as though I’d been a honey bee tha’d rested on a single stamen while thousands of brightly-blooming flowers had swept past me in review, showing their colors, curing my favor, leaving my senses sated, but spinning, too, somewhat uncertain as to exactly what it was I’d just become heir to.
In this fantasy visit, we’d be out on Miss Welty’s wrap-around front porch, sitting in twin, white-wicker rockers. In the spacious front yard spread out before us there’d be giant, in-full-bloom magnolia trees lining each side of a warm-red, brick walkway tha’d make three gentle “S” turns before reaching the white picket fence tha’d ring the large lot her house would be on. The flooring of Miss Welty’s porch, it’d be of wide-cut, tongue-in-groove pine, and it’d be painted green. The shade of green tha’d shine and still be easy to see even when the sun wasn’t coming down at just the right angle, but a shade that wasn’t so light it’d glare and make you turn away. And there’d be huge Georgia-clay-red earthen pots of big, green-leafed flowering plants sitting all around, and between us there’d be a long white wicker table with tall glasses of lemonade placed at each end on hand-sewn doily-coasters, red-and-yellow-checked linen napkins folded beside each one, the tiny letters “ew” embroidered in antique blue on their corners. And there’d be three large white ceiling fans hanging above us, slicing slowly through the humid, Mississippi air.
And I’d ask Miss Welty to tell me how she’d become interested in photography, which she’s sure got a definite eye for, and she’d tell how she often uses it as an entrance to a story she’ll be writing, much as, she’d say, an artist will use a snapshot as a model, a mnemonic device for doing a painting. But then ever-so-gently she’d head me off when I’d start to steer our talk onto even an ever-so-mildly-political path. Or bring up any portion of “the past” tha’d be much beyond the most recent year or two. Miss Welty, I’d sense, was very much an apolitical, “today” lady. Still, that she loved knowing the pasts of others—needed them so for her writing—tha’d be clear.
It would be right about now in this all-too-brief fantasy visit with Miss Welty that I’d rise and, taking her soft, gracious hand in mine, say how talking with her was such a long-time dream come true for me. She’d smile her gentle smile and say something like it was her pleasure, then she’d ask me to please wait right there a moment as she turned and quietly disappeared into the house.
Then, just like that, she’d be back. She’d hand me the little leather-bound book she’d be carrying. Here, she’d say, she wished me to have this. In raised, red lettering its title would be The Thanksgiving Visitor. On the inside-jacket cover there’d be the words “To My Dear Friend, Eudora (signed) Truman Capote.” And just below that, in my fantasy, there’d be written in still-wet blue ink, “To My Special Visitor, Wayne (signed) Eudora.”