Number Seven in Butler, AL in Choctaw County!

It’s Saturday night and I’m catching up on yesterday’s visit to Butler, Alabama, which is approximately 17 miles from the Mississippi state line in the piney woods and timberlands of western Alabama in Choctaw County. The lovely librarian, Ashley Taylor, set us up at the Butler Civic Center right next to the library, and we had around 25 kids, parents, and grandparents come to the workshop, which made for lively storytelling. We talked of friendship, stories, trees, and going on adventures. Lucy’s 3D illustrations inspired some 3D trees amongst the young artists of Butler who made peach trees, palm trees, oak trees, and a giant almond tree. They told stories while they were doing it and added characters to the tree pictures too. The only missing parts of the day were Norah and Olive. Norah eyed the 158 miles to Butler from Birmingham on Google Maps, and opted to sleep late and go rock-climbing with her friend, Seabrook, in the afternoon. As for our trusted traveling library pooch, we decided to give little Olive a break from her daily treks across Alabama so she could catch up on her beauty sleep too.

We told the children about how Kathryn Tucker Windham did not like piano lessons as a child, because she had an unpleasant teacher who whacked your knuckles with a pencil if you got a note wrong. According to Kathryn, the only thing good about playing piano was getting to climb the oak tree in the front yard while waiting for your lesson to begin. But this crabby piano teacher decided to cut the lower limbs off of the beautiful oak tree in her front yard, which meant the kids could no longer climb the beloved tree. In the story, Kathryn had this to say about the cranky piano teacher once the limbs were chopped off: “It did not increase my love for her in the least.” We also told them of the Alabama tree-sitting contests during her 1920s and 1930s’ childhood and how kids would climb trees and sit up there for days to see who would win all the ice-cream they could eat.

They are stories from this CD, which I hope comes back into print soon. “Front Porch Rocking Chairs.” http://www.bookdepository.com/Front-Porch-Rocking-Chairs-Kathryn-Tucker-Windham/9780874836585

Lucy also told the kids about Kiffen (her father) and how he could make pretty much make anything when she was growing up. He made cars out of boxes – windows cut right out the cardboard. Sometimes, he and the kids were in the backyard for hours either in the garden or making something like mud pies or movies. But the most memorable piece of cardboard art that I can recall was a large sleigh with cardboard runners and seats and everything.

Actually, it was during the Grinch phase. Kiffen built Flannery and Lucy the whole sled out of cardboard with two seats for each child, and then both kids smeared green food coloring on themselves and stuffed all the pillowcases in the house with beat-up toys and piled it high on the sled just like in THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS. They just knew it was absolutely, positively going to fly. They mounted their cardboard sleigh ready to set sail over Los Angeles to deliver old toys even though it was nowhere near Christmas or maybe it was just after Christmas, I can’t remember. I do know they tied Birdy, our old dog, to the sleigh to take off, and then, horrors, it just sat there. They waited. Birdy thumped her tail, but still, nothing. After a few more seconds and then minutes of wishing and gravity, Flannery flew into a tailspin of grief – he believed so much in the power of cardboard and Daddy! He really KNEW it was going to fly high into the air.

Oh the tears, the fury! Daddy said it would fly, it was supposed to fly! Not just pretend fly!

Birdy sat shackled to cardboard sleigh, panting and miserable. Lucy was happy to pretend they were sailing over Silver Lake, but Flannery had to be consoled with hugs and snacks and a promise to the video store to rent THE GRINCH again. They were both still covered in Grinchy green food coloring, smeary green tears on Flannery’s face. But in the end, they finally they agreed to pretend, and in my heart and head, I really hope they flew over our neighborhood of Silver Lake in their imaginations, old Birdy, our dog, leading the way like Max from THE GRINCH, delivering beat-up toys to one and all.

Finally during our visit to Butler, two teenage girls and new high school graduates, Teresa and Alisa, also attended the workshop and afterwards we met at the library to talk about what they hope and dream for their writing careers. Alisa is off to Savannah School of Design (SCAD) to study graphic novels, and Teresa is off to Livingston to study communications and journalism. They are writing an article about us for the local paper in Butler.

Then it was “Meat and 3” at Miss Sissy’s Diner in York, about 30 miles north of Butler where Lucy had her first fried catfish to Judge Joe blasting on the television. We drove home to rest for the weekend because Monday is Fairhope, Tuesday is Monroeville, and Wednesday is Dothan! And then we’re done for June and heading back to Los Angeles for the rest of the summer.

Tuesday will be Lucy’s first trip to Monroeville ever to see the home Harper Lee and Truman Capote and approximately Norah’s 10th trip or so. 🙂

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Choctaw-County-Public-Library/45631505467?fref=ts

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About Kerry Madden

Kerry writes books for kids and teaches creative writing. Her books include: Offsides, Writing Smarts, Gentle's Holler, Louisiana's Song, Jessie's Mountain, Up Close Harper Lee, and Nothing Fancy About Kathryn and Charlie. She writes essays for the LA Times among other places and divided her life between Birmingham and Los Angeles. Her newest book, Ernestine's Milky Way, will be published by Schwartz & Wade (Random House) in 2019. She is on the faculty at Antioch's Low Residency MFA Program and the Director of Creative Writing at UAB.
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2 Responses to Number Seven in Butler, AL in Choctaw County!

  1. Janis Madden says:

    Off to bed to dream about what I just read and saw. The Grinch, the trees, the art, so much. Another group of fortunate young people experiencing Nothing Fancy. What seeds you are sowing.

  2. LOVE the faces and the trees! I can almost hear their voices like story-singing mockingbirds!

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