Last week, Bill, Claire and I took an epic road trip vacation, and on our way home, we visited Eudora Welty’s house and garden. Our visit was a fluke. It only happened because Carol Michel from May Dreams Gardens noted we were in Jackson, MS. She suggested–nay, insisted–we visit. I’m so glad she did because I’d forgotten Miss Welty’s house and garden are in Jackson. Throughout this post, I’m calling her Miss Welty because that’s what her neighbors called her.
You’re supposed to call beforehand, but we were unable to do this on such short notice. Still, I found the visitor’s center open, and another couple was there too. We went through the visitor’s center, watched a lovely movie on Miss Welty, who is one of my favorite authors, and then we were set to go see the house.
Photos aren’t allowed inside so I had to content myself with photos of the outside and the garden.
Here’s a video that shows the inside.
July wasn’t the best time of the year to visit the garden. With camellias and roses being predominant features, it would be much better in February, March and April. There wasn’t much blooming in July. Claire noticed they use they same plant tags I do. Other charming aspects of the garden were signs that contained passages from Miss Welty’s books. The garden always figured in her stories and novels in unique ways.
I felt bad for dragging Claire around another old house because we’d already visited two plantation homes, but she said she enjoyed seeing “80s stuff.” Claire is all about the 1980s. Our guide was about twenty-two, and she and Claire were amazed at all of the old stuff in the house. Their reactions made me chuckle because so many things were exactly like my Grandma Nita’s house and even my childhood home. The sink was a large one with a drainboard like the second one in this link. Miss Welty’s was the traditional white instead of green though. Also, she had an aluminum drip coffee pot just like one my grandmother had.
Miss Welty donated the house to her state in 1986 so they kept everything from that time period and before. I thought that was a bit odd since Miss Welty lived in the house until her death in 2001. From the girls, there was even more amazement at how Miss Welty cut and pasted with real paper to compose her stories. I explained that we all cut and pasted our work before there were computers. That’s where the idea of cut and paste on computers came from.
Miss Welty never used a computer.
She wrote her stories on a typewriter set on a table in her bedroom next to a large window that faced the street. Because there was no air conditioning in her home, she had her windows open and listened to the music from the college across the street. Our guide wondered at the lack of air conditioning, but my grandmother also never had air conditioning, and until I was a teen, my family only had window units. My grandmother used a water cooler fan instead. I still remember her house being rather cool because of good air circulation, but I do love my a/c on a hot summer day even if I do miss some of the outdoor sounds. On cooler days, I open all of our windows to catch the breeze and the peaceful sounds of a world going about its business. In the country, that would be mostly birds and insects. What would summer be without cicadas tuning up and down all day and into the night?
I’m sharing the video below because I loved how Gore Vidal and Miss Welty talked about the South and churches. At one time, churches were the center of life in small-town America.
As we walked through Miss Welty’s house, I could feel her presence everywhere.
She had a wonderful sense of humor, and our guide told us stories similar to the ones in this article from the New York Times, I wish I’d met her. I love her books. Her words dance leisurely from scene to scene until you simply know her characters.
Did you also realize she was a photographer? While visiting, I purchased a compilation of her photographs from her work for the WPA, One Time, One Place: Mississippi in the Depression. She also loved New Orleans, and some of her best photographs are in the visitor’s center next door to her home. Here’s a compilation of her photographs curated by the Smithsonian.
One the things I enjoyed most about the house was the collection of Miss Welty’s books that she read. She was an avid reader and loved mystery/detective fiction, as do I. It made me smile to see classic mysteries by Dick Francis, Ross McDonald and Agatha Christie, among others. In spite of winning a slate of awards including the Pulitzer Prize for The Optimist’s Daughter, the only award she had displayed was her Raven Award for “Mystery Reader of the Year” from the Mystery Writers of America. Apparently, her Pulitzer was found in a closet after her death. I love that. I love this portrait too. It captures her beautiful, clear blue eyes.
About the garden, Miss Welty always said it was her mother’s garden. Chestina Welty designed the space, but she and Miss Welty worked out there together until Mrs. Welty’s death. The garden is lovely, and I hope you enjoyed my photos of it. I wanted to learn more about its construction, so I bought a copy of One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place, by Susan Haltom and Jane Roy Brown, with photographs by Langdon Clay. I’m almost halfway through, and I’m loving this book which ties Miss Welty’s garden with history from the same time period. It’s quite lovely. Here, Susan Haltom discusses the garden and the book. Haltom knew Miss Welty well and helped save the garden when it became neglected due to Miss Welty’s declining health.
It’s funny. Oklahomans think of themselves as southerners, but the South doesn’t think Oklahoma is part of it. Perhaps, it isn’t–even though every subject Miss Welty wrote about is familiar to this Oklahoman. My family, from Missouri and Oklahoma, are contained within her pages even though she wrote only about Mississippi. For me, picking up one of her books feels like coming home.