Monday, May 08, 2006

Miss Eudora Welty, At Home

Visiting the homes of writers has been a pleasure for me. Although I've only walked through a few, each has been a spiritual journey into the life and times of great imaginations. I've seen where Nathanial Hawthorn looked upon the sea from his writing desk, Mark Twain penned his stories in his spacious attic, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's frequent room at the Wayside Inn, where he wrote his Tales. But the visit to Miss Eudora's home was the one that moved me the most.

Her two-story Tudor home was built in 1925 is now a National Historic Landmark. The garden in the back remains the same as when Miss Eudora lived 76 years of her life. The home has been restored to its mid-1980's appearance, the period in which Miss Eudora was actively writing. Sis and I and friend Sue, all of us connected to writing and reading, waited on an overcast day to be among the first visitors.

The home is fully furnished with its original contents. It is considered one of the most intact literary houses in the nation. Everything we'd ever heard of this demure lady was evident in our passage through the house. We were reminded of the spot in the dinette where Miss Eudora drank her coffee, admiring the garden her mother had laid out in earlier years; we saw her work room, at the front of the house on the second floor, where she could wave at the neighbors (and later the curious)while continuing to peck on her manual typewriter. We were reminded that she laid out her stories, cut into slips of paragraphs, which she rearranged before adjusting placement with the typewriter.

Absence were the most of the 5,000 volumes of books she had accumulated. One guide told us that the rooms were full of books standing in columns along the floor, piled on tables and chairs, in every corner. We saw only a fraction of that number, but got the feeling that books were her companion. Many had been given by other writers, many she'd obtained herself, but nevertheless, she didn't discard any. The secretary holding all of Miss Eudora's first editions which she gave to her mother as each were published, was still in its original place. We saw in the kitchen the old flue where the wood-burning stove once ate up the only copy of Petrified Man . This discard was Miss Eudora's reaction when the book was rejected for publication. However, a short time later, the publisher changed his mind and Miss Eudora sat down at her typewriter and punched out the story from memory--a year later.

Because Miss Eudora was grateful to the editors and writers who helped her in her early career, she always had a genuine interest in helping new and aspiring writers who ask for advice. She had a longtime group of friends who congregated often to discuss books and authors and everyday subjects dear to them.

She lived among her family's furnishings alone after her loving parents died. She was content to wander through the house full of happy memories, with the idea that one day she'd bequeathe this home as a literary house in honor of her parents, who instilled a life-long interest in reading.

Equally interesting was the garden, laid out by her mother and carefully tended by daughter until her death in 2001. As Miss Welty once said of this garden full of original plants, her mother wanted a "learning experience, a living picture, always changing." It was this beautiful space that inspired Miss Eudora to include references to gardening in her writings. The "distinctive characteristics of camellas, dahlias, dafodils, and a host of other flowers and plants provided powerful images and metaphors for her fiction"(from the folder "The Garden of The Eudora Welty House"). We walked past a bed of beautiful roses, Mrs. Welty's favorite; around 30 varieties of camelias, past a perennial border of bearded irises, daylillies, sweetpeas, usually yellow or orange in color;a cutting garden of hollyhocks,larkspur, and ragged robins with changes of blooms each season. This area, too, was spiritual, knowing how often Miss Eudora could sit away from the busy street and enjoy the fragrances that surrounded her. It seemed that life stood still for Miss Eudora to capture the senses that she set on paper.

Miss Eudora, for those who are unfamiliar, received the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the French Legion of Honor, two Guggenheim Fellowships, the William Dean Howells Gold Medal for Fiction, the National Medal of Freedom, the National Medal of Arts, and memberships in the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

And she lived a hop and a skip away from my home.

1 comment:

endment said...

OOhh what a wonderful visit... It was fun to go along with you... Thanks for sharing more about Miss Eudora!