Biography Bronzes Drawings-Pastels Mixed-Media Contact

I lifted Miss Eudora with hands cupped under her frail arms that seemed longer than natural for her size, helping her maneuver into her motorized lounger. The hands could have been a portrait in themselves - long fingers gracefully reaching.

She seemed weightless, as easy to lift as she was to talk with. Nine decades had allowed time to weave her genius and she spoke with a pleasantness and humor and kindness that drew attention from her conversant.

That Sunday afternoon, for the first time in her presence, I sensed a rush of emotions and nostalgia, flashing back to my childhood, and more poignantly, my transition to adulthood. Until then I couldn’t have expressed why the woman intrigued me so, or why I was there in her home, sharing with her my recently completed bronze portrait bust. I had been driven to do it. A catharsis of sorts.

“How can one accomplish this and practice the art of medicine at the same time?” she had asked with that unique voice.

“Kept it in the clinic break room and worked between pap smears,” I had spontaneously responded. A gynecologist could sculpt. No reason to confine one’s passion to puerperal pathology.

“We should call it “between paps” then. It would be a true name. Telling.” Even her verbal phrasing sounded like her short stories. The revelation was logical. She simply typed down what came into her head. Type and speak the words or speak the words and type. It did not matter.

I had researched for a year, formed the peculiar face in clay, completed the mother mold and then cast the figure in bronze. Yet, I realized in that moment the work had actually begun twenty years earlier.

I was no literary scholar, a casual reader at best. I hadn’t known her work very well. Not her writing. Her wonderful use of language had not led me to the bust, but the bust had lead me to her words. Wonderful language.

I had first been connected to her through her images and not the verbal ones. For twenty years I had absorbed her published photographs. Though she considered herself simply a recorder of life through the lens of her camera, she, despite all humility, obviously possessed a natural gift, an eye for composition. I saw it. Even then it helped form my own eye.

At the time, I couldn’t express an opinion about her images in as many words but I could express them with pencil on paper, and I was doing just that on a Fall weekend in 1977.

It was there as I sat at the foot of my grandmother’s hospital bed on that cold tile floor, in a room that smelled like the doctor’s offices of my youth, complete with alcohol and porcelain basins and white sheets, that I met Eudora Welty for the first time.
I had given Mom (my grandmother’s nickname) a Welty photo collection as a Christmas gift and I sat studying the black and white images as I watched her lie there still, life slowly moving to a new place. That was the year she was finally told what she seemed to be waiting her whole life to hear; at least her whole life as my grandmother. She had cancer, pancreatic no less.

And though I had no conscious memory of my own mother’s death from cancer fifteen years earlier, I was indeed living her mother’s illness, and that day, that one time and one place, was the last chapter, last verse, last word. A sigh would describe it better as we shared her last breath together, face to face, eye to eye, heart to heart.

Now I knew. In some strange way Miss Eudora had been there too. An unknowing comforter.

I lacked a coherent agony, one I could express. My grief was beyond simple emotion. Not something here today, gone tomorrow. Maybe if I could write it down, but I couldn’t find the words, the authorized version of my distress.

But there, two decades later, Mom’s frailty and unchanging kindheartedness came flooding back in my mind as I sat in the parlor on Pinehurst Street. Despite the months of work, it was only then that the connection and relationship became obvious. Mom had never known Eudora Welty, nor had Miss Eudora known Mom. And Mom, to my knowledge, had never read the work, though the simple life in Harperville, Mississippi, could certainly have read like a Welty short story. The dots were connecting.

Eudora Welty never like being labeled a “southern writer”. She simply communicated life where and how she knew it. Mom never declared or denied being a southern woman, she had simply been born in rural Mississippi, lived there, and died there. And she, like Miss Eudora, had made life richer, more worthwhile, for those around her.

Mom never won a Pulitzer Prize, or the French Legion Honor, or was referred to as America’s First Lady of anything. But she did what she thought God put her on earth to do, and did it with equal courage and passion. Sharing life.

So I sat in the parlor sipping ice tea, talking and listening. The worn sofa rested underneath the window that looked out to the neighborhood of her childhood and the rest of her life. A personalized photo of Bill Clinton sat casually on the fireplace mantel. On the far wall, a William Hollingsworth watercolor of a wet, slippery, sloping Jackson street announced her personal friendship with the long deceased local artist from another era. Books filled a bookshelf along one wall and more books covered an upholstered love seat. It had become a place to sit stacks on stacks of books – words making up sentences making up paragraphs making up pages and bound together to be held in the hand; a temporary resting place, a seat for what she loved. More books were scattered about the room. No particular order or filing system was evident. Nothing marked them as particularly outstanding except that they were hers.

“What do you think?” I nodded towards the bronze portrait.

“Well, I suppose I shouldn’t offer an opinion since I am no master of the medium. But if you were to ask, do you like vanilla ice cream, I could render an opinion.”

I pondered the response. Then I thought of another Mississippi writer asking Eudora as they rode leisurely down a kudzu enfolded Mississippi back road, referring to a road sign that read “PARADISE ALLEY”, “Eudora, should we take this turn?”
With her usual quick wit she had responded, “Why, Willie, we’d be fools not to.”

When she was a girl, little Eudora had loved to take Sunday rides in the family car just to see the town and listen to the adults converse as she sat in the back seat middle. With the bronze Eudora Welty in front of me and the real lady beside me, I was reminded. I smiled.

One day, Lord willing, on another Paradise Alley, riding in the back seat middle myself, I will turn to Mom and Miss Eudora to say, as little Eudora had so many years ago, “Now, ya’ll talk.” Two women, sharing life in a new time and a new place.