Early morning in mid March, I found myself driving through a neighborhood of Jackson Mississippi that openly displays its development throughout the years with a patchwork of architectural styles. Driving down Peachtree Street, one can see Tudor style houses from the early twentieth century adjacent to stucco laden art deco houses from the 1960’s. Large live oaks hang over the streets like parasols giving the illusion that the day light emits directly from the green lawns. Suddenly, the housing grid opens up to the downtown campus of Belhaven University, a quaint liberal arts college founded in the late 1800’s.
The day before, Belhaven’s provost contacted me to schedule an interview for an open faculty position. The catch was that he was leaving town the next morning, and we needed to conduct the interview before the date of his return. He accommodated me by taking me out to breakfast, and afterwards I met some of the other faculty members. At some point in the day, someone mentioned to me that across the street from the Belhaven campus stood the family home of Eudora Welty the Pulitzer prize winning author.
When I had some time off from hand shaking and conversing, I trekked across the well-maintained lawns of Belhaven and across one of the cracked streets common in Jackson (There is a lot of red clay and sand in the foundation of southern Mississippi.) and into the Welty museum adjacent to her house. After a small tour, I felt inspired to pick up Miss Welty’s autobiography One Writer’s Beginnings.
In One Writer’s Beginnings, Welty describes her childhood with striking detail. From her writings, I felt that I had been a spectator riding along in the car with her family on the way to visit her grandparents in Ohio and West Virginia or stayed in the dorm of Columbus Mississippi’s Mississippi University for Women. I kept thinking that though she was in her seventies when the book was written, Welty could remember more about her childhood than I know of my own. Even more so, she writes with detail of her great grandparents. I felt ashamed that I know very little about mine.
It’s a weird feeling to think that my son’s grandchildren might not know anything about me. In that sentiment, I feel that I have the responsibility to learn about my own great grandparents. Welty’s writings about her family have put a seed in my heart to learn more about the generation that came before me. Since reading One Writer’s Beginnings, I have already found the shot gun of Earl Floyd Estes, my father’s father, an heirloom I hope to someday have passed onto me.
I have always had some sort of inward desire to write. In second grade, I wrote a rap song with the chanting chorus “Peace Man, Peace Baby, 1234…(an instant classic)”, and throughout my life I have written short stories, songs, and even a monthly newsletter (I was one cool middle school-er.). However, it seems that to keep a journal worth reading, one needs to live an adventure for every entry. In other words, my journals are boring.
In One Writer’s Beginnings, Miss Welty taught me that the beauty of a story lies in the details. Anybody’s journal can be worth reading if he pays attention to the nuances of life: the smell of the morning coffee, the rhythm of the road on a long trip, the offbeat clap of the tambourine in a Sunday morning service of worship. Everyone experiences moments of stress and triumph, and thus everyone experiences adventure. But Welty says it best, “What discoveries I’ve made in the course of writing stories all begin with the particular, never the general.” Stories begin with the details.
The skill of Welty’s story telling, though, goes beyond the details. By searching her memories, she is capable of drawing conclusions of the essence of the people in her lives. She writes, “It seems to me, writing of my parents now in my seventies, that I see continuities in their lives that weren’t visible to me when they were living.” She remembers her father as being an optimist and her mother as over protecting even though she did not relate those traits to them while growing up, and this skill of Welty has inspired me to investigate my memories. Am I deep enough to draw meaningful conclusions such as Welty had? I’m not sure, but she has taught me to attempt to measure the significance of the day to day occurrences shared with friends and loved ones. Welty writes, “The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order.” I hope to investigate this order within myself.
Since reading One Writer’s Beginnings, I have started journaling again, but this time I am not just trying to list the day’s events. Following Welty’s example, I am writing about my wife, sisters, parents, and grandparents, writing about the “particular” not just the “general”, and seeking the linearity of significance of these things. What do my personal memories portray about the character of those around me and of myself? Welty’s writing has brought forth some deep questions and cause of reflection, and those are things we should always welcome.
Pages: 104 FoA Total Pages: 104 (The FoA pages is the total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus.)